It’s usually the other way around at a court sentencing: Defendants who have taken a life sometimes apologize to the victim’s surviving family members.
“I am very sorry for anything and everything that Devin has done to your family,” Lapointe said, leading off a deeply emotional address in which she was blunt about her son’s actions and struggles, explained some of what led to the crime, and ended by forgiving Powell.
“I never held any grudge against you or your family and I forgive you, Noel. I forgave you from day one,” she said during the virtual appearance in Superior Court of Mercer County.
Moments later, Judge Darlene Pereksta sentenced Powell to seven years in prison, the agreed-upon term when he pleaded guilty to a charge of passion provocation manslaughter last month. Powell, 30, had been charged with first-degree murder.
Powell chose not to speak Thursday. He appeared from the Mercer County jail, where he’s been since his arrest shortly after the shooting.
Authorities have never revealed the root of Powell’s motive for shooting Smith, 23, point blank in the head in the restaurant’s bar. Shortly after the crime NJ Advance Media reported from sources that Powell shot Smith due to a lengthy dispute between them and their families, who are both from Lawrence.
Lapointe said Thursday the dispute was not among the families. “This was an ongoing feud between the both of you,” she said to Powell.
She did not say what happened, but referenced “the events of 2008,” and said after that, her son – then a young teen – spent a week at a juvenile detention center, three months in a group home and 18 months in a residential facility.
Smith arrived home with a monitoring bracelet on his leg and many years of therapy ahead of him, and managed to finish high school.
Despite his efforts, Smith only had “one good year,” Lapointe said, before falling into addiction – to what she did not say. He battled demons and made bad choices, she said.
“You see, Devin was always haunted by the trauma from his childhood which I didn’t become aware of until later in his life,” she said.
“I am sharing all of this with you so that you are aware that he did have to pay some sort of price for his actions. Although I realize this is not a full and complete restitution of what was done, and it does not in any way diminish his actions, I felt this had to be told,” Lapointe said.
And in a remarkable moment, Lapointe said: “In a way, a generational curse has been broken through Devin’s death and his daughter and two sisters will never have to experience this themselves.”
Smith, although he struggled, managed to bring joy to his family, his mother said.
“Along with sadness and pain, his life came with many beautiful moments and memories of pure joy,” Lapointe said. “He had a quick wit about him. He had an infectious smile. He lit up a room when he walked into it and made everyone around him laugh. He made his sisters and his daughter laugh and they acted like he was the king of the universe when he walked through the door. There are many of us that miss him deeply.”
Lapointe did have pointed words for Powel too, saying she believes he strategically planned Devin’s death. “You didn’t do it alone and you had been wanting to do it for a long time. I’m very aware of what happened on November 14, 2017 and the lies you have told to get such a short time in jail are obvious to me.”
However, she does not believe in incarceration. “It is not an answer for those that are hurting, those that have mental health problems and/or addictions.”
“I really hope that you use this time to rethink some things. I hope that when you finally get out, you are afforded resources that really help you and you take advantage of them, if not for yourself, for your family who has been very supportive of you all the way through.”
She also said she heard the Powells are a “praying family,” and hers is too. She said news from a detective that Smith lived for five minutes after being shot gave her comfort because she knows her son used it to ask for forgiveness, and “walked into Heaven.”
“This story is indeed a true tragedy,” Lapointe said.
“It was a loss for both families in many ways and I hope that it has taught all of us many lessons. The difference is that your family gets to see you and we will never see Devin again …. not on this Earth anyway.”
Powell’s attorney, Robin Lord, said numerous members of Powell’s family watched the sentencing online to support him and would have filled half the courtroom had it been in person.