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Judge has mercy on Buffalo woman for man's murder, grants freedom under new law

Posted at 5:57 PM, Sep 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-09 09:00:15-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — After spending more than 20 years in prison, Patrice Smith will soon be a free woman thanks to a new law that is meant to give a second chance to victims of domestic violence.

Judge Sheila DiTullio has vacated her original sentence of 25 years-to-life for the second degree murder of 71-year-old Robert Robinson in 1998, and given a new determinate sentence of 12 years.

"Our system of justice requires that someone convicted of such a crime be held accountable and punished for her actions," Judge DiTullio wrote in her decision. "But our system also allows for mercy -- mercy where [Smith] herself is a victim, and where her victimization fueled the crime for which she was convicted."

In her decision, DiTullio acknowledges that Smith repeatedly suffered "sexual abuse and exploitation" from Robinson before his murder, which are "inextricably interlinked" to her actions on the night of the crime.

"It is indisputable that had it not been for the illicit and abusive relationship Robinson cultivated, defendant would not have gone to his home and reacted the way she did," Judge DiTullio wrote.

Smith's attorney, Kate Mogulescu, says this re-sentencing represents the "true spirit and intent" of the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act.

"The Court reckoned with the full circumstances of Patrice’s offense. It recognized her status as a victim, and that she was a teenager, at the time of the offense," Mogulescu wrote in a statement to 7 Eyewitness News. "True justice demands that the legal system not be afraid to revisit sentencing decisions, even for the most serious offenses. We are grateful to the Court for doing precisely that here."

In her decision, Judge DiTullio makes it clear that Smith is not being exonerated for murder and robbery, but rather that "because of the circumstances present here, it is not a crime for which [Smith] should remain incarcerated for the rest of her natural life."

Smith will be the third person to walk out of prison under the new law, and her re-sentence is the most significant time reduction any defendant has been granted under the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, according to Mogulescu. Moreover, Smith is the first person to be re-sentenced for a murder conviction under the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act.

Smith will be formally granted her new sentence, which she has already served, at a hearing later this month. Had this law not been in place, Smith's earliest opportunity to be granted parole would have been December 2023.

"There has been a groundswell of support for Patrice across the state, and the country," said Mogulescu. "So many wait to welcome her home with support and love."