In the courtroom during the sentencing hearing for Antonio Smith sat 20 friends and family members of the two victims, Eddie Powe, 36, at the time of his death, and Breanna Eskridge, 17. It’s been almost a full two years since these murders. They waited anxiously to hear how much prison time Smith will serve.
Smith was scheduled to be sentenced on April 28, after pleading guilty to two counts of 1st degree intentional homicide, and to one count of Conspiracy of 1st degree intentional homicide. However, the case continued to drag on until July 18, when Smith was sentenced to a life prison term for the homicides.
While the brutality and heinous nature of the crimes are troubling, equally troubling for family members were the delays and unusual circumstances that have followed on the path of justice.
Over the past two years, the defendant switched judges, dropped his attorney, requested a delay for a gall bladder surgery, and then returned seeking to represent himself. Smith then faced a jury trial lasting five days, until he reassigned his lawyer and subsequently enters a plea of guilty.
After voluntarily accepting a guilty plea for the two counts of first degree intentional homicide, as well as the conspiracy count, a month later at his sentencing hearing Smith and his lawyer informed the judge, Martin Joseph Donald, that the defense wanted a dismissal of his guilty plea.
“I already reviewed the plea hearing, I’ve also reviewed the submission that you have provided to the court,” says Judge Donald at the April hearing. “You [Smith’s attorney] indicated to the court that you would be in a position, or your client, Antonio Smith, would be in a position to at least articulate for the record as to the basis.“
Smith’s attorney, Thomas Erickson, replied, “Mr. Smith would like to attempt to withdraw his guilty plea. The basis for that, generally, he felt pressured into pleading. I think given that position, I would have to withdraw on the case, for I could be, potentially, a witness.”
The judge then asked Smith to confirm that this is what he wants to do. Smith responded with, “Yes it is.” After he spoke, Smith looked over his shoulder and gave a slight smirk to the crowd of friends and family of his victims.
“Mr. Smith, I understand there is a great deal at stake,” says Judge Donald. “I understand that this is something you feel you need to do, and I’m not in any way trying to prejudge what the record will reflect, but there needs to be a decent, a fair, and just reason established to whether or not it creates a manifest injustice.”
Ultimately the judge accepted his request after hearing from the prosecutor, Karl Hayes. “I understand this is a motion that the defendant has the ability to make at this time,” says Hayes. “So my interest at this point is to eliminate the delay for the victims’ family members.”
After Hays spoke, and the judge started to continue, at least half of the family and friends in court stood up and walked out of the room. Just a few waited around to hear the judge say, “At this time, we’ll adjourn this matter for a hearing on the motion to withdraw the plea.”
In the hallway after the trial, groups of the friends and family huddled together in different areas shaking their heads, on their phones, yelling, talking, and crying.
According to the criminal complaint, on July 11, 2015, Police Officers Busshardt and Kulenovic responded to a building on the 2600 block of West Port Sunlight Way to investigate a shooting. The victim of the shooting was identified as Eddie Powe, who died that night while undergoing surgery.
On July 19, 2015, Police Officers Donahue and Watts responded to a building on the 1200 block of West Concordia Avenue to investigate a shooting. The victim was identified as Breanna Eskridge, 17, and transported to Children’s Hospital. She was pronounce dead on July 20th, 2017 at 3:00 A.M.
On the same day Eskridge was shot, July 19, in an interview with detective Gulbrandson and Saranac, an eyewitness, John Spivey, identified a photograph of the defendant, Antonio Smith, as the person he saw shoot Powe.
On August 23, 2015, Smith was spotted at a building on the 500 block of West Harrison Avenue. He was arrested and taken to the Milwaukee County Jail, the complaint said.
From inside the jail, Smith was able to make phone calls to co-conspirator, Shantrell Lyons, and used her to transfer “two black boxes” to a storage unit, the complaint said. Investigating officers revealed the location of the storage unit described by Smith corresponds to Birchwood Storage West Good Hope Road.
On November 5, 2015, law enforcement officers executed a search warrant for an individual storage locker at Birchwood Storage. They found a black and silver Taurus 24/7 G2-model 9mm semi-automatic pistol, and a black Smith and Wesson MP-model .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol, according to the complaint.
Firearms and Toolmarks Examiner, Mark Simonson, performed a forensic ballistics analysis on both firearms. The .45 caliber shell casings that were at the Powe homicide came from the Smith and Wesson, and the 9mm shell casings came from the Taurus.
Inside the same pod, Smith was conspiring with an fellow inmate, Lorenzo Beaton. Finding out that Beaton was being release in a week, Smith told him he had “some work to do” – Smith would provide money to Beaton in order for him to post the bail of John Spivey. Beaton ultimately took on the task.
With the money in hand, on November 2, 2015, Beaton arrived at the Criminal Justice Facility and paid $7,500 in cash to post Spivey’s bail.
On a recorded video between Smith and Lyons, Smith says, “If he duck or dodge for whatever reason, you got to tell dude [that] he got to go. You tell the crazy dude that’s the only way a motherf****r [is] for sure gone.”
On November 4, 2015, Spivey was scheduled to be released on bond. Investigating officers observed Lyons arrive at the Criminal Justice Facility in a white Mercedes-Benz, with Beaton in the front passenger seat and a second male in the back, Shaheem Smith, Antonio’s nephew. They were parked in a way that they could view both the front entrance of the Safety building and the Criminal Justice Facility.
However, before Spivey could be released, he was intercepted by investigators and discretely moved to a secure location.
On November 5, 2015, both Lyons, Shaheem and Beaton were arrested. Soon after, Beaton and Shaheem confessed to everything they had to do with the conspiracy to murder Spivey.
A scheduling conference to discuss Smith’s motion to dismiss his guilty plea was set up for May 12, but per the permission of the judge, on the day of the hearing, the clerk decided to adjourn the case until June.
The journey to justice has been a long one for the friends and family of victims Eddie Powe and Breanna Eskridge.