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Judge denies new trial for teen convicted of murder

Posted: March 7, 2014 - 10:19am  |  Updated: March 12, 2014 - 12:08am
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Aaron Schmidt, 17, enters the courtroom, where Judge Michael Annis denied his motion for a new trial in the murder of Alana May Calahan.   Photo by Jim Blaylock
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Aaron Schmidt, 17, enters the courtroom, where Judge Michael Annis denied his motion for a new trial in the murder of Alana May Calahan.

More than two years after Lacy Aaron Schmidt was convicted of murdering his 14-year-old friend, a Superior Court judge refused his request for a new trial.

Schmidt, 17, was 15 when he was charged with shooting 14-year-old Alana May Calahan in her home near Harlem on Jan. 31, 2011.

A year later, a jury convicted him of murder, theft and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. Superior Court Judge Michael N. Annis sentenced Schmidt to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Annis denied the request for a new trial at a Thursday hearing in Evans.

Schmidt’s attorney, Mack Taylor, said Penelope Donkar, Schmidt’s trial attorney, was “ineffective.” Taylor argued that Donkar should have more vehemently pursued voluntary or involuntary manslaughter charges and that she had “no real strategy to get a voluntary manslaughter verdict and no clear strategy to get an involuntary manslaughter verdict.”

He said that the judge should have allowed the jury to consider those charges based on a statement Schmidt gave investigators while in custody that he was trying to “uncock” the gun when it just went off. That statement should have allowed the jury to consider involuntary manslaughter. Another possible theory suggesting Schmidt suddenly became violent in the heat of passion, which also should have allowed the voluntary manslaughter verdict.

Taylor quoted case law that says if the grade of homicide is unclear that the jury should have been instructed on them all and allowed to decide for themselves.

“There has to be some evidence,” Assistant District Attorney Natalie Paine argued in favor of upholding Schmidt’s conviction. “There was nothing said by Mr. Schmidt other than it was an accident.”

Donkar, who testified at the hearing, said Schmidt’s trial was her first murder trial. She said preparations for the trial “consumed” her.

Paine said that Donkar spent appropriate effort preparing for the trial and that she had evidentiary reasons not to seek a manslaughter charge.

“She was simply going where the evidence took her in this case,” Paine said.

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