17-year-old is sent to prison for life for killing man
By KARL LEIF BATES
NEWS STAFF REPORTER
Bosie Lee Smith. 17, never had a chance. But the man he killed doesn’t anymore either.
Smith, the product of a rough and neglectful childhood on the streets of Ypsilanti’s South Side, was sentenced to life in prison without parole Wednesday as his mother sobbed hysterically in a minister’s arms.
He was convicted in October of the premeditated murder of Kenneth Campbell, 24, outside a house party. The two had fought inside the house, and according to witnesses, Smith left to fetch a knife and then returned to call Campbell out to the street. During the fight, the 5-foot-2, 105-pound teen known as Mosquito plunged the knife into Campbell’s heart.
Washtenaw County Circuit Judge William Ager had to decide Wednesday whether the offense would be punished by a term in juvenile detention for no more than 42 months or whether the state’s mandatory life prison sentence would apply. He had no other choices.
In a statement made before Ager ruled, Smith asked the judge to consider “the tragedy of my childhood and the scars and wounds that it has left. Your honor, can’t nobody tell you or give you insight on how I am as a person.” Smith said memories of his upbringing have left him with nightmares and cold sweats, and he vowed to try to turn his life around.
The Rev. Levon Yuille of Ypsilanti attended the sentencing to provide support for Smith’s family. In a Dec. 24 letter to The News, Yuille said Smith’s case is a “classic example of the inequity of our sentencing policies in Michigan. It is these inequities that give rise to the charge of racism that we hear often from the minority population.”
In his letter, Yuille referred to a recent case in the Detroit area in which white youths were given less severe sentences for killing another youth. “I am not suggesting that Mr. Smith go free,” wrote Yuille, “but I am strongly saying to sentence Mr. Smith...to life in prison without chance of parole would be an injustice.”
“There’s no question the defendant has had a tough childhood,” starting with a birth weight of 1 1/2 pounds, Ager said. “His life was headed for disaster.” School testing found he was learning disabled. His lengthy juvenile criminal record includes possession of cocaine and firearms and assault.
“The court finds that the juvenile system just didn’t work,” Ager said. “Potential treatment in the juvenile system would not lead to rehabilitation.” To protect the public, he said, he was sentencing Smith to prison for life.
“I’m happy about the decision because it’s just,” said Campbell’s aunt, Jean Smith, who is no relation to Bosie Smith. “But I’m sad, too, because it’s two young lives that are lost.” She said she hopes the tough sentence would send a message to other young men that violence won’t solve problems.
“I feel bad for his mother, but at least she can still see him,” she said. “Ken won’t get a second chance.”
News staff reporter John Woods also contributed to this report.