LANCASTER — Former Raiders defensive end Anthony Wayne Smith was sentenced in an Antelope Valley courtroom Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for a trio of murders.
Smith, 48, was convicted in November of the Nov. 10, 1999, shooting deaths of brothers Kevin and Ricky Nettles, who were kidnapped from a Los Angeles car wash, and the June 25, 2001, stabbing death of Dennis Henderson, whose body was found in a rental car in Watts.
Jurors found true the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders, murder involving the infliction of torture, and murder during the commission of a kidnapping. But prosecutors opted not to seek the death penalty.
Superior Court Judge Daviann L. Mitchell dismissed a fourth murder count against Smith involving the Oct. 7, 2008, shooting death of Maurilio Ponce after prosecutors announced that they would not be proceeding with a retrial on that charge. Jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on that count last November.
A previous jury also deadlocked in April 2012 on the murder charge involving the killing of Ponce, who was found dead near the Antelope Valley poppy fields, about 11 miles west of Lancaster.
While he was awaiting retrial, Smith was charged with the other three killings.
“I don’t know what motivated you … It was almost as if you were cold and insensitive,” the judge told the defendant, noting that he was “showing some emotion” during the sentencing hearing in which the victims’ family members spoke.
The judge told the former football player that he had “such a wonderful career” and “threw it all away.” She noted that the prosecution had not presented any motive for the killings, and said that she thought Smith was involved in Ponce’s killing.
“That’s four separate murders,” Mitchell told Smith. She told the defendant that she hoped he would spend the rest of his life in prison by making a difference in some way.
Ricky Nettles’ son, Dashan, told the judge, “Unfortunately my father and my uncle were taken from me when I was 13 years old … I could remember it like it was yesterday.”
“It brought so many emotions back being here for the trial,” he said. “Last time I saw a photo of him just happened to be here in court, and they were pretty bad photos.”
One of the Nettles’ sisters, Jovana Nettles, spoke directly to Smith.
“The questions we have you may never be man enough to answer, so I’m not going to ask why,” she said, instead asking Smith how he sleeps at night knowing what he did to her brothers.
“You tortured them. You threw them out like trash … You have hurt this family tremendously,” she said.
Dennis Henderson Jr. said he has been haunted by nightmares since his father’s death. He said that he was 9 years old when his father was killed, and the Henderson and Nettles families “have all suffered a great loss.”
Smith did not make any statement during the sentencing hearing, but defense attorney Michael S. Evans unsuccessfully asked the judge to run the life prison terms at the same time rather than consecutively. He said his client intends to appeal.
Evans said outside the courtroom that he was relieved by the prosecution’s decision not to retry Smith in connection with Ponce’s killing — a charge Smith had been contesting since 2011.
“I don’t think he was involved in that murder,” Smith’s attorney said.
Deputy District Attorney Tom Trainor said after the hearing that he believed justice had been done, and he hoped it would offer some closure to the victims’ relatives.
“It took a number of years for the facts to come to light. It was a lot of years for the family members to be sitting around with those questions,” the prosecutor said.
The Nettles brothers — who suffered multiple gunshot wounds — were found with their heads wrapped in duct tape the morning after they were abducted. Kevin Nettles’ body was found in Los Angeles, while Ricky Nettles was found dead in Compton with burns on his body — some of which were consistent with a clothing iron, according to the prosecutor.
In court last month, the judge rejected a request by Smith’s attorney for personal information about the jurors who convicted Smith. Evans said he wanted the information so he could prepare a motion for a new trial on grounds of possible juror misconduct.
Evans contended that a juror form had been wrongly filled out. He also said the jury improperly requested a cellphone charger so they could look at Ponce’s mobile phone during deliberations, and improperly requested a PowerPoint presentation used by a prosecutor during closing arguments. Both of the jury’s requests were denied during the trial.
At the Dec. 21 hearing, the judge said that she didn’t believe the panel’s requests suggested any misconduct.
Smith, the Raiders’ top pick in 1990 out of the University of Arizona, played for the Los Angeles and Oakland Raiders between 1991 and 1997.
He has been jailed since his arrest in March 2011.
Editor’s note: Story updated with more details from the sentencing hearing.
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