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Judge grants Patrice Smith freedom after serving 21 years for murder, thanks to new law

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Posted at 11:23 AM, Sep 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-17 18:35:02-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Through a computer screen in a room at Albion Correctional Facility, Patrice Smith got the validation she has been seeking for two decades: the sexual exploitation she suffered as a teenager at the hands of 71-year-old reverend Robert Robinson was indeed linked to his murder in 1998.

"I will never get back my childhood, but because of you, Your Honor, I will leave prison knowing what he did to me mattered," Smith told the court via Skype.

Smith, who has been incarcerated for nearly 22 years, fought back tears as she shared her regret for killing Robinson in his Hamlin Road home.

"I don't want you to believe that I have no regard for the life that was lost," said Smith. "I caused insurmountable pain to [Robinson's] family and there is nothing I can do that will heal them. And I will live with that for the rest of my life."

Judge Sheila DiTullio formally vacated the original 25-years-to-life sentence she imposed on Smith in December 1999, and issued a new determinate sentence of 12 years, which Smith has already served.

"The case is a tragedy on multiple levels. A person lost his life, a family grieves, and a 16-year-old girl who was raped and sexually abused grew up and spent most of her young adulthood in jail," Judge DiTullio said.

The re-sentencing is made possible by the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, which was enacted in 2019. New York State describes it as a law that "seeks to mitigate harsh punishments imposed upon eligible defendants whose crimes can be directly linked to a history of domestic violence."

In her decision, Judge DiTullio acknowledged that the abuse and exploitation Robinson inflicted on Smith was "inextricably interlinked" to her actions on the night of the crime.

Thursday's re-sentencing comes more than three months after Smith's attorney, Kate Mogulescu, submitted an application for re-sentencing under the DVSJA. Judge DiTullio approved the application for consideration, despite opposition from Erie County District Attorney John Flynn.

Erie County Assistant District Attorney Michael Hillery declined to speak during Thursday's hearing when given the opportunity.

Mogulescu thanked the court for expediting Smith's case given the procedural challenges imposed by the pandemic.

"Today marks the beginning of a new chapter for Patrice Smith," said Mogulescu.

Judge DiTullio's final words to Smith on Thursday: "Good luck."