Trenton man admits killing Sidique Richardson-Howlen, gets 7 years

Robert Smith

Robert Smith

A city man with a low IQ has pleaded guilty to the 2013 slaying of Sidique Richardson-Howlen and received a seven-year prison sentence.

Robert Smith, 23, will only have to serve about three years in the slammer because he received credit on Thursday for having already served four years. Indeed, Smith has been in custody ever since his arrest in April 2013. He was originally charged as an accomplice to murder.

“He certainly did not act alone,” Trenton Police Lt. Mark Kieffer said of Smith at the time.

The victim, 22-year-old Sidique Richardson-Howlen, died from a gunshot wound to the head as armed perpetrators fired shots from a vehicle driven by Smith on the 100 block of Home Avenue in Trenton on April 5, 2013.

Although police initially charged Smith with being an accomplice to murder, a grand jury indicted him in December 2013 as if he was the principal gunman responsible for Richardson-Howlen’s death.

Sidique Richardson-Howlen

Sidique Richardson-Howlen

That indictment was effectively dismissed this year due to Smith pleading guilty in January to second-degree reckless manslaughter. If Smith went to trial, acquittal was not guaranteed and a conviction could have resulted in him getting 30 years to life in prison.

Mercer County Superior Court Judge Peter Warshaw on Thursday sentenced Smith to seven years of incarceration for reckless manslaughter while Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor John Boyle disposed of Smith’s heavier charges of murder, aggravated assault, and weapons offenses.

Heartbroken lawyer

Smith’s attorney, public defender Caroline Turner, has been representing him since May 2013 and said the resolution of the case represents “an indictment on the justice system.”

Smith cooperated with police and told them Semier Vincent, 23, was the alleged gunman who fired the shot that killed Richardson-Howlen, according to Turner. Vincent, however, was never arrested or charged in connection with the homicide.

Vincent is well-known to police and pleaded guilty to another violent crime — a brazen shooting at Trenton’s Galilee Baptist Church that wounded three people on April 22, 2014 — and is now serving a five-year prison sentence at the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility.

Smith was 19 when police arrested him four years ago. His attorney described him as “a 19-year-old intellectually diminished individual” and “sweet kid” who “wouldn’t harm anyone.”

“It’s a case that’s broken my heart,” Turner said, adding she fought for Smith in the courts for the last four years, arguing for his $1  million bail to be reduced to $300,000 but never able to get more favorable terms for her client who sat in jail that whole time.

Turner on Thursday said justice was not served in regards to the slaying of Sidique Richardson-Howlen.

“Everyone knew Robert wasn’t responsible for this,” she said. “When he took the guilty plea, I was in tears, because I fought for this guy.”

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