Family satisfied with prison terms

Published 8:28 pm Friday, December 3, 2010

For the respective roles they played in the kidnapping and subsequent murder of Ahoskie resident Donald Bradley “Brad” Smithwick, Raymond Jedele, 41, and Janet Harrell, 36, will now sacrifice their freedom.

While some feel their punishment pales in comparison to the nature of the crimes committed against Smithwick, the victim’s family members appear to be content with the judgment handed down last week.

The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald has obtained a copy of the statements made by the Smithwick family prior to District 6B Resident Superior Court Judge Cy Grant Jr. handing down the prison terms for Jedele and Harrell.

On Nov. 23, Jedele pled guilty to one count of first degree murder for the Oct. 4, 2007 slaying of Smithwick. Jedele, a Kill Devil Hills Police officer at the time of the murder, received a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

Jedele was facing the death penalty if a jury had found him guilty of capital murder. That trial was scheduled for early January 2011, but never made it to that point as Jedele accepted a plea arrangement.

Also on Nov. 23, Harrell, Smithwick’s ex-wife, pled guilty to second degree murder and received a sentence of 157 to 198 months (13 to 16 years) in the North Carolina Department of Corrections. She was facing first degree murder charges. 

“After lengthy discussions with the family members of Brad Smithwick and the investigators involved in this case, I allowed the two defendants in this case to plead guilty,” said local District Attorney Valerie Asbell. “This was a difficult decision that was made out of deference to the wishes and desires of the family members of Brad Smithwick.

“The decision to allow Raymond Jedele to receive life without parole was consistent with the family’s wishes,” Asbell continued. “Smithwick’s family members thought that Jedele should spend the rest of his life behind bars so that each and every day he could remember what he did to their loved one. The family felt that life without parole was a more agonizing punishment than the possibility of receiving the death penalty.”

She added, “The decision made regarding Janet Harrell’s case was difficult on all of the family members because everyone felt like she planned the entire crime; however, members of the family wanted to spare the victim’s children the trauma of a trial at their tender ages and the possibility of them having to testify against their mother.”

Asbell noted that in making this decision, “The family, law enforcement officers and I took into account the certainty and finality of the guilty pleas as opposed to the uncertainty of a not guilty verdict based on the evidence against Janet Harrell.

“I was prepared to go forward with the trial of both of these cases; however, I always try to consider the family members and their wishes because they are truly the only victims left to suffer,” Asbell stated. “I agreed with the family members in this case that a certain outcome outweighed the mental anguish of an extended jury trial.”

During the sentencing of the defendants, both Sindi Smithwick, the wife of Brad Smithwick, and Connie Smithwick, the mother of the victim, spoke to Judge Grant about their feelings about the two defendants.

Sindi Smithwick first read a letter to the Judge that was written by Samantha Smithwick, Brad Smithwick’s daughter.  Among other things, Samantha wrote, “It is sad that on my birthday, Christmas, or important events that my dad is not there.  It’s hard to go places and see other kids spend time with their father and not me….I loved my Dad more than anything else but now I have a missing piece out of my life.  Just to know that I love my dad and Janet and Ray took that away from me.  Janet said she loved me, well it really showed how much she loved me with her actions.”

After reading Samantha’s letter, Sindi made a lengthy statement to the court about her marriage to Brad and also read a letter written by her earlier.

Mrs. Smithwick stated, “This man you see in front of you (Jedele), the one that took an oath to serve and protect, was too weak-minded to see through the lies and deceit that caused him to commit such an unthinkable crime.  I feel sorry for him.  I feel sorry for him because he not only took a life, but is giving up his life based on a lie.”

On Janet Harrell, Sindi Smithwick stated, “She had a dark side and a double life that would horrify anyone and that life was exposed as a result of the recent custody battle (over parental rights to two children) that she lost. The sad thing is that Brad knew far too well the truth about her but no one wanted to listen until after his death.  Even now, this man beside her (Jedele) is still oblivious to her true self.”

“My children will only know what a great man their father was because of the life he lived and gave for them,” she continued. “They will grow up having to live with the fact that the woman that gave birth to them took the life of their father, and all because he refused to give up the fight to get his kids into a stable home.”

In her statement to the court, Connie Smithwick stated, “The instant that trigger was pulled and Brad’s life here ended, he was standing with his father in heaven.  The act they ( Jedele and Harrell) did was very selfish, hateful and evil…I pray you both think of Brad every day, I hope you have the picture burned in your memories of the last breath he took.  I know someday I will have to try and forgive you for taking my son’s life.  I will have to answer to God for my decision, and you both will have to answer to God for the decision you made on October 4, 2007.” 

Before sentencing Harrell, Judge Grant told the Smithwick family how sorry he was for the loss of their loved one.  Judge Grant also commented on the plea taken in regards to Harrell’s case by stating to the family that Asbell did a fantastic job and it was an appropriate sentence based on the evidence.

“May God continue to bless this family and give them strength in the upcoming months to learn how to live with this senseless and horrible act of violence,” Asbell concluded.

Brad Smithwick, 33 at the time of his death, was abducted from the driveway in front of his home. His body was found two days later in Chowan County. An autopsy revealed he had been fatally shot in the head on the day of his abduction.

Jedele was arrested later on the day of the abduction and charged with kidnapping. That charge was changed to murder upon the discovery of Smithwick’s body. 

Harrell became a suspect in her ex-husband’s slaying after law enforcement officials learned that Brad Smithwick had been awarded custody of his and Harrell’s two children a day before his abduction.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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