Man, 18, Sentenced In Rape Case: Parents Take The Blame, Saying Their Marital Problems And Divorce Led To A Troubled Childhood — (Sun-Sentinal)

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Sun-Sentinal

August 3, 2004

By Missy Stoddard Staff Writer

Before she goes to sleep each night, the 32-year-old woman makes sure a knife and telephone are at her bedside and an exit plan is mapped out in her head.

She has moved to a second-floor apartment and has a roommate. She can at least sleep in her bedroom now, though she had extra locks placed on the room’s door. For a while, she slept in a windowless, locked bathroom.

Sometimes, if she has a nightmare about the horrific events in her West Palm Beach home on June 18, 2003, she wakes up and vomits. On Monday, a piece of that nightmare came to an end when the woman’s teenage attacker was sent to prison.

After an all-day hearing Monday, Circuit Judge Richard Wennet sentenced Michael Smith, 18, to 22 years in prison for armed kidnapping while masked, armed burglary while masked, armed sexual battery while masked and attempted sexual battery while wearing a mask. He pleaded guilty in May. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is not identifying the woman because she is the victim of a sexual assault.

Upon release, Smith will be on two years of house arrest followed by eight years of probation. Labeled a sexual predator, Smith must receive treatment for a violent, anti-social personality disorder.

Prosecutor Cheryl Caracuzzo sought a life sentence. Defense attorney Robert Gershman asked for less than the 19-year minimum called for by state sentencing guidelines.

Smith’s father, Tom, sobbed silently as Wennet announced his decision.

Tom Smith and his ex-wife, Rebecca, made tearful pleas to Wennet, each blaming themselves and their behavior during a bitter custody battle and divorce for their son’s problems.

“This is the direct result of having two selfish, lousy parents,” the father said.

The victim testified that as she pulled into her driveway after midnight, she saw a figure crouching behind her car. In seconds, a masked man in black had a knife to her throat and forced her inside. The assailant taped the woman’s eyes and mouth shut and bound her arms and legs with zip ties.

Smith raped her and then spent three hours cleaning the crime scene. The woman eventually was able to escape.

For months, the crime went unsolved. The house was so clean that even the victim’s fingerprints couldn’t be found.

A break in the case came when West Palm Beach police Detective Don Iman sought a DNA sample from Smith, a neighbor, to rule him out as a suspect. The sample tied Smith to the crime.

During Monday’s hearing, a portrait emerged of a young man so profoundly disturbed, depressed and defiant over his family problems that at age 12 or 13 his mother had him committed to a mental hospital. As the mother-son relationship continued to sour and behavior problems at school and home escalated, Smith, a seventh-grader, showed up on his father’s doorstep and asked for help. His father testified that from that moment Smith was a model son and student.

Tom Smith said he made the biggest mistake of his life allowing his son to discontinue therapy and Prozac because of his above-average grades. His son was such an exceptional student at Inlet Grove High School that he began being solicited for college scholarships. On track to graduate a semester early, Smith signed papers to enlist in the Marine Corps.

On Monday, Smith apologized to his victim and asked for a second chance.

“I can’t take back the past, but I can try and live as best I can in the future,” he said.

Missy Stoddard can be reached at mstoddard@sun0sentinel.com or 561-832-2895561-832-2895.