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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Man sentenced to 9 years after 2020 robbery that left one man dead: ‘I can and will get better’

Oct. 12, 2022 Updated Wed., Oct. 12, 2022 at 5:33 p.m.

Christopher Smith, 35, pictured with daughter Ellanor Smith, was shot and killed New Year’s Eve day 2020.  (Payton Nagle)
Christopher Smith, 35, pictured with daughter Ellanor Smith, was shot and killed New Year’s Eve day 2020. (Payton Nagle)

The mother and fiancée of Christopher Smith fought through tears Wednesday morning as they described the man they knew and loved before he was killed in a robbery by Joseph Gray.

“Everyday I wake up and I hurt. I hurt because I’m not able to hold Chris. I’m not able to see him anymore. I hurt for my granddaughter. I’m hurting as a mother who lost her son to a senseless murder,” Gemmerica Smith told Superior Court Judge Michelle Szambelan before a courtroom during Gray’s sentencing. “He was my baby and Mr. Gray took his life.”

Szambelan sentenced Gray, 30, to nine years in prison for first-degree robbery on Wednesday. He was convicted of the robbery last month, but was acquitted of murder.

Smith was killed during a fight with Gray near the Brookdale Park Place nursing home in Spokane Valley after a drug deal gone wrong on Dec. 31, 2020 , according to court documents.

A man was shot outside of the Brookdale Park Place senior living facility New Year’s Eve morning.  (Rebecca White / The Spokesman-Review)
A man was shot outside of the Brookdale Park Place senior living facility New Year’s Eve morning. (Rebecca White / The Spokesman-Review)

Smith had sold drugs to Gray at an acquaintance’s house that day, according to court records. Gray left, but returned shortly after and told Smith that the drugs were “garbage,” the documents said. Smith ran out of the door of the house. According to witnesses, Gray found Smith near the nursing home and began “aggressively” asking Smith, “Where’s my money?”

The two men got into a physical struggle when Gray pulled off a fanny pack from Smith and the two separated. Gray then pulled out a pistol and shot Smith, the documents said. Smith was taken to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, where he died.

Smith’s mother described the pain she feels knowing that Gray and his girlfriend “tracked him down like a dog and left him for dead.”

After listening to the details of Smith’s death and his alleged criminal activities, Smith’s family had the opportunity to portray him in a different light in the courtroom by playing a video montage of him with family and friends, and playing with his now 12-year-old daughter. His fiancée, Andrea Nagle, described the 35-year-old as a caring person and a dedicated father who was building a career as a carpenter.

Nagle also discussed the difficulties she has faced raising their daughter on her own during the past two years. The two had recently purchased a house and were “building a life together,” she said. Smith bought two rings, one of which was also for their daughter, for their marriage just before he was killed, she said.

Gray’s attorney Brian Raymon described the shooting as a case of “self-defense” after his conviction.

Gray was arrested in connection with another shooting about a week later in Spokane after he was robbed of drugs at his home in Spokane Valley, according to court documents. He is awaiting trial for one count of unlawful possession of a firearm and three counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver.

Gray made a brief statement on Wednesday, saying he was sorry for the “pain and loss” felt by the Smith family.

“I truly wish the result had happened any way other than the way it did,” Gray said in court. “I know I can and will get better. I’m sorry.”

Szambelan said the seriousness of the robbery offense warranted a high sentencing, and that she wasn’t “exacting a pound of flesh” as a result of his acquittal last month.

“You talked about an opportunity to do better, and at least you have one,” she said to Gray during his sentencing.

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