Donald Smiley-Lyle, a troubled young man who fancied himself a “Druid king” and who helped strangle a Spokane man in a dispute over a Beatles poster, was found guilty of first-degree felony murder Friday by a Spokane jury.
The same jury declined to find Smiley-Lyle guilty of first-degree premeditated murder on another count, deciding instead on a lesser count of first-degree manslaughter for helping cause the death of Robert “Bud” Johnson in March 2006. The jury agreed to weapons enhancements on both counts, which will increase Smiley-Lyle’s sentence.
“It will be a big sentence. … He’s looking at over 25 years of hard time,” Spokane Deputy Prosecutor Steve Garvin said after the verdict. A minimum sentence for first degree murder is 20 years, but the weapons enhancements and some prior offenses will add additional time, Garvin said.
The slight 19-year-old bowed his head as the verdicts were read by Spokane County Superior Court Judge Neal Q. Rielly. A few minutes later, he was escorted back to jail, where he’ll remain until his sentencing on Dec. 20.
Johnson’s half-brother, Brett Krop, was in the courtroom for the verdict. He sat through the entire trial.
“I’m happy there’s one more monster off the streets,” he said tersely after the verdict.
Smiley-Lyle’s accomplice in the murder was Robert A. Entel, 20, who pleaded guilty and is serving 25 years in state prison after cutting a deal with prosecutors to testify against Smiley-Lyle.
Prosecutors said during the trial that the two young men plotted to kill Johnson as a favor to Entel’s cousin Kathryn B. Kelly, 31, who had lived briefly with Johnson. Their romantic relationship ended with Johnson asking Kelly to return the “Hard Day’s Night” Beatles poster he’d given her. When Kelly refused, Johnson and a friend drove to Entel’s house and took the poster. Entel and Smiley-Lyle planned Johnson’s murder and dumped his body in the Spokane River, prosecutors said.
Douglas Boe, the Spokane County deputy public defender who represented Smiley-Lyle, stressed constantly during the two-week trial that Entel was a bully who took advantage of Smiley-Lyle, a kid from a troubled home who craved acceptance. He also said Entel was the initiator of the violence against Johnson.
Both boys were placed as teenagers at Morning Star Boys Ranch, where they became friends, practiced martial arts and fantasized about creating their own militia. Entel was later kicked out of the Marines and the National Guard and returned to Spokane, where he again sought out Smiley-Lyle.
Boe told the jurors they’d have to find a “design to kill” in Smiley-Lyle’s behavior to convict him of first-degree premeditated murder. “I ask you to be extremely careful here. This is the most serious criminal charge that can be brought against a person in this state,” Boe said in his closing statement.
The jury was given a “cautionary instruction” on how to evaluate the testimony of Entel, who had escaped life in prison by agreeing to testify against his former friend.
Prosecutor Garvin portrayed Smiley-Lyle as a willing participant in the murder, stressing a videotaped confession he’d given to Spokane Police Department Major Crimes Detective Kip Hollenbeck.
Smiley-Lyle may have been Entel’s right-hand man, “but he is still responsible for what he does. … Even a private has a duty to tell a general no when he’s committing a crime,” Garvin told the jury in his closing statement.
“We are satisfied with the verdict,” Garvin said late Friday.
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