NEWPORT CITY - After a more than three-hour sentencing hearing Wednesday, Judge Howard VanBenthuysen handed Cristopher Smith, 27, a three-five year suspended sentence except for 437 days to serve with credit for time served, on a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He has been in jail since Aug. 11, 2011.
In August 2011, Jennifer Cleveland of the Orleans and Caledonia Record was traveling on the Airport Road in Coventry when she saw Smith in the road with a puppy. Cleveland stopped to check on Smith who asked for a ride to his car. At first, Cleveland was hesitant, but gave in when Smith told her it was all right.
As they traveled down the road, Smith asked her to stop the car and started to dig in his pocket. Cleveland questioned Smith when some tobacco and a corncob pipe fell out. He replied that they were "his smokes."
Smith then pointed a knife at Cleveland and told her to take off her clothes. Cleveland declined and Smith gave the order two more times, to which she gave the same answer.
Cleveland told Smith he was messing with the wrong woman to which Smith replied “Oh yeah?”
Cleveland grabbed Smith’s wrist with her right hand and used her left thumb to push the blade back, causing it to break off. She then threw the knife out the car window and ran towards a house to call police. Smith later turned himself in at the Vermont State Police barracks in Derby.
Cleveland, in a prepared statement, told the court yesterday that she wanted justice to be served but asked the judge be mercifully in a therapeutic manner.
“I forgive you, Cris," she said, "but I want you to know the impact of your actions in my life, because it’s something I can never forget.” She said that her husband wants her to carry a weapon at all times and is worried every time she leaves the house. “You destroyed my sense of trust. I stopped to help you that day and in return you put a knife in my face. Now I can’t force myself to stop and help others in need.”
Cleveland reminded Smith that not many women would ask the court to treat him kindly. She also said that she didn’t believe jail was the place for Smith and she wants him to get help.
“If you are ever again charged with an offense like this, expect to see my face in the courtroom, but in the future, I won’t be asking the court to be so merciful,” she warned Smith.
Smith, who has a developmental disability and may be autistic, has spent much of his life in institutional settings.
Lisa Levesque from probation and parole told the court that she looked at Smith’s files, some of which go back to the Department of Children and Families. While in prison for this crime, Smith had issues with correctional officers and performed acts of self-harm, Levesque said.
Smith appeared in court with a bandaged hand.
John Hochman, a doctor of psychiatry and neurology from Los Angeles, gave expert testimony on behalf of Smith. He suggested that Smith might have false memory syndrome, which happens when a person gets convinced something happened when it didn’t. After meeting with Smith on two different occasions, Hochman determined Smith to have high functioning autism and problems with self-esteem. Hochman also said that Smith has a temper and problems with anger management.
Gail Falk became Smith’s guardian after he left a clinical school in Pennsylvania. The two kept in contact even after Falk left her job as Director of the Vermont Office of the Public Guardian. She then agreed to be Smith’s guardian privately.
Falk would like to help Smith gain some job skills and help him learn to how to make friends. She also said Smith would like to earn money by mowing grass. Smith is a good artist, can sing, likes to read and snowboard.
Smith realizes he has problems, said his attorney Trudy Miller. She said there is no excuse for her client’s actions and it’s important for Smith to get help and that he may not see the world as other’s see it.
“I know what I did was wrong,” Smith told the court. He said that if it were possible he would undo what he did. “I’m really sorry for what I did. I could never hurt somebody again. I want another chance.”
Smith ended his presentation by reading a poem.
After prison, Smith must go to a group home.
VanBenthuysen originally sentenced Smith to 395 days, but quickly change it because Smith’s release date would occur before a bed at a group home is ready for him. Smith also received a three-year deferred sentence for engaging in a prohibited act. The state dismissed a charge of disorderly conduct. Smith entered guilty pleas to the charges last July.