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Killer Smith of Fayette County apologizes, gets 18-40 years in prison

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Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, 11:30 p.m.

A Fayette County man convicted of third-degree homicide in a Mother's Day shooting apologized on Tuesday before a judge sentenced him to 18 to 40 years in prison.

“It's been two years, and I still can't forgive myself,” said Kurtavius “Tay” Smith during the hearing before Judge Steve Leskinen. “I pray the family will forgive me.”

A jury on Feb. 10 convicted Smith, 28, of third-degree murder in the May 13, 2012, shooting of Marlin “Zeus” Crawford.

Uniontown police found the mortally wounded Crawford lying unresponsive on a sidewalk at 4:46 a.m. in the Pershing Court Manor public housing complex. He had been shot once in the forehead.

In a victim-impact statement, Crawford's aunt said his death will have a lasting impact on her family.

“Marlin's death bothered, and still bothers, everybody in the family,” JoAnn Mickens testified. “It's something that shouldn't have happened.”

Mickens said she has little confidence in the criminal justice system. She said a man who was convicted in 1998 of third-degree homicide in her daughter's death was sentenced to up to 30 years in prison but was released early for “good behavior.”

“I don't see justice in that,” Mickens said. “Something has to be done with these violent crimes. You take somebody's life, you have to pay for it.”

Two men testified on Smith's behalf, including Richard Nirschel, who runs a Bible study at the Fayette County Prison.

Nirschel said Smith attends the classes regularly and has shown a desire to better himself and has a “longing to do what's right.”

In seeking a maximum sentence of 20 to 40 years, Assistant District Attorney J.W. Eddy said “kind words” regarding Smith will not “resurrect Marlin Crawford.” Eddy described the shooting as vicious, deliberate and violent.

Defense attorney Charles “Chuck” Hoebler of Pittsburgh noted Smith had no record of violent crimes before the shooting. He sought a sentence of no more than 13 years.

In imposing the sentence, Leskinen said trial testimony indicated the shooting was over a woman.

He took into account a text message in which Smith threatened to kill Crawford. The judge noted that two guns found on Crawford appeared not to have been fired.

Leskinen questioned a state police policy in which the crime lab does not test the hands of shooting victims for gunshot residue.

During Smith's trial, a prosecution witness testified that, at the direction of the state police commissioner, shooting victim's hands typically are not tested for gunshot residue.

Leskinen said although it was not a critical factor in Smith's case, the presence of gunshot residue on victims' hands in other cases could be essential to those cases.

“If it shows no gunshot residue, it's damning in a case claim of self-defense,” Leskinen said. “I cannot fathom ... what kind of financial savings can justify a policy like that, which — and I use my words carefully — seems to be asinine.”

Hoebler said he intends to file an appeal in the case.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or

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