Convicted teen killer heads back to court
Sent to prison for life at the age of 16 without any chance of parole, convicted killer Donald Lambert today has a chance at being placed on parole within the next eight years.
Now 33 years old and having served 18 years in a state prison, Lambert is currently housed in the Grant County Jail awaiting a re-sentencing hearing on Friday. In all likelihood, Lambert’s original sentence will be changed on Friday to a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 25 years.
The re-sentencing comes after a 2012 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that ruled it is unconstitutional for juveniles to receive automatic sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“There is only one sentence the judge can impose and that is life with (possible) parole after 25 years,” said Alan White, chief deputy prosecutor for Grant County.
Lambert was convicted of aggravated murder after admitting he murdered an elderly Quincy couple in 1997 in their rural home. The deaths of Homer, 89, and Vada, 88, Smithson, who died from multiple gunshot wounds, rocked the local community. Three other Quincy teens also went to prison for their involvement in the crime.
Lambert is one of two Grant County men currently in state prison and now looking at potentially having their sentences changed. The other is Barry Loukaitis, who in February 1996 fatally shot a teacher and two classmates and wounded a third student at Frontier Junior High School in Moses Lake. Loukaitis was 14 years old.
White estimates that most counties in Washington are dealing with similar issues. That’s because Lambert and Loukaitis are among a number of defendants across the nation affected by the U.S. Supreme Court case Miller v. Alabama, which ruled it is unconstitutional for juveniles to receive automatic sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In accordance with the new federal law, the state Legislature in 2013 eliminated mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of aggravated murder. Today, people convicted of aggravated murder before the age of 16 are eligible for parole after 25 years in prison. For teens 16 to 17 years old, life without parole remains a possibility; however, it must be considered by a state sentencing review board, White said.
An archived story in the Quincy Valley Post-Register states that Lambert, along with 16-year-old Adam Betancourt, entered the Smithson’s home on Road 7 Northwest with a pistol and a rifle in the early morning hours of May 21, 1997, while the Smithsons slept. Vada Smithson was able to call her son in Peshastin as the incident was happening. Her son then immediately called authorities. Vada Smithson died at the scene, and Homer Smithson later died at a Spokane hospital.
The Smithsons had celebrated their 70th anniversary two weeks before the incident, according to the article.
Also involved in the incident were Marcus Wawers, who stayed outside as a lookout, and Melanie Hinkle, who told police she was involved in the planning of the incident, which took place two weeks prior. Both Quincy teens were 15 at the time.
The teens were arrested hours after the murders at Wawers’ home, which was only a half mile from the Smithson home.
As the gunmen, Betancourt and Lambert faced stiffer charges and sentences than Wawers and Hinkle. Shortly into his trial, Lambert agreed to plead guilty to a single count of murder and received a life sentence. Betancourt later pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
Because Betancourt did not receive a life sentence, the prosecutor’s office is not expecting a resentencing hearing for him, White said.
Over the years, Lambert has tried to argue he was too young to know what he was doing when he agreed to plead guilty. In 2003, a federal judge in Spokane threw out Lambert’s guilty plea on the basis that he received ineffective legal counsel. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit later reversed that ruling, saying Lambert had known what he was doing when he pleaded guilty.
In February, Lambert filed a motion, requesting he be transferred from state custody to the county jail. Lambert made a preliminary court appearance last week. At Friday’s re-sentencing hearing, the victims’ family members may address the court, White said.
— By Jill FitzSimmons, email@example.com