Calling it a killing committed in the “most brutal fashion,” a Baltimore judge on Monday sentenced 22-year-old Terrell Gibson to 80 years in prison for the murder of Dion Smith, a 24-year-old father of three and the brother of former Baltimore Police spokesman T.J. Smith.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Gregory Sampson handed down the sentence after Gibson stood and maintained his innocence, and after T.J. Smith gave an impassioned victim impact statement asking for Gibson to be put away for life.
Judges “breed repeat violent offenders” by returning those who have committed violence to the streets, Smith told Sampson.
“We can’t risk the opportunity to let him do this to another family,” he said.
Smith’s comments, combined with Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s presence in the small courtroom, provided weight to a sentencing hearing that was already heavy — for a crime Assistant State’s Attorney Adam Chaudry described as a “monstrous act.”
In July 2017, Dion was found shot in the head by a shotgun. Smith, who at the time briefed the city on many shootings and homicides, got a notification on his phone that caused his stomach to drop, listing his brother’s full name — Dionay Smith — as that of the city’s latest homicide victim. He knew it was his brother, even as he wished it wasn’t true.
Suddenly, the police spokesman was also a mourning family member, and Smith somehow balanced both roles as detectives worked leads.
Gibson, a friend of Dion Smith’s who lived nearby, was soon arrested.
The case against him ultimately hinged on video surveillance footage from Dion Smith’s building, in which prosecutors said Gibson was captured pacing around at the time of the killing, and with a shotgun.
A jury convicted Gibson of first-degree murder and with using a firearm in commission of a felony in September.
On Monday, Gibson gave his “condolences” to the Smith family but said he did not kill Dion. And he said his public defender, Paula Cline, had provided him with inadequate representation and given him poor advice.
Cline argued for leniency on Gibson’s behalf. She said he had been sent at a very young age to live with a relative who did not care for him. She said his upbringing was “rough, and it was tough, and essentially he was left to raise himself.”
Cline said Gibson sold drugs as a child to pay for essentials like food, had started smoking marijuana at age 9, and had been diagnosed as bipolar and as having attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Even still, she said, he had been “respectful, thoughtful, quiet spoken, extremely bright” and patient in her presence.
Cline told Gibson that she would file an appeal in the case on his behalf, and told Sampson he should expect paperwork suggesting there might have been a deficiency in her representation of Gibson.
Though he’s no longer the police spokesman, Smith’s trademark gravitas remained when he addressed the court.
He called Gibson a “predator” who was seen on surveillance footage “stalking like a hyena” outside his brother’s home. He said Gibson has never shown remorse, even though he and Dion were friends and Dion had shown him kindness, and that Gibson deserved to go to prison for life.
Smith — now a spokesman for Baltimore County — said he felt for Gibson’s family, but the fact that Gibson had a tough childhood was no excuse for taking someone’s life.
“I recognize hurt people hurt people, but that’s … no excuse,” he said.
Marlin Smith, T.J. and Dion’s father, spoke of his dead son working two full-time jobs — one as an intake specialist at a drug treatment facility — all to provide for his three young children, who were robbed of their father’s love.
“We all would lean on Dion, and he was always there for us,” he said.
Marlin Smith also said he is afraid of Gibson, and asked for a stiff sentence so that Gibson would be held “accountable for his wicked act.”
Chaudry, the prosecutor, asked for a life sentence for the murder charge, plus a consecutive 20-year sentence for the gun charge.
Sampson, who said there was “more than ample” evidence supporting Gibson’s conviction, sentenced Gibson to life in prison with all but 65 years suspended for the murder conviction, plus another 15 years, with the first five to be served without the possibility of parole, for the gun conviction.
He ordered that the sentences be served consecutively, not concurrently.
Afterward, the Smith family joined Mosby in front of the courthouse. Mosby said the sentence was not what her office wanted but was within the judge’s discretion.
T.J. Smith said he’d made a point of calling on the judge for a stiff sentence because he believes the courts must accept their role in the violence that is plaguing Baltimore.
“The police on the front lines of this get blamed, and we see police commissioner [turnover] as a result. The state’s attorney gets blamed. The citizens themselves get blamed. We have to also look at the other part,” Smith said. “It’s really not about a blame game, it’s about a solutions game. And I wanted to say — on behalf of my family and myself and as a former person who spoke about this often — to the court that, ‘You have a responsibility in this as well.’