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Tony Smith

Other Los Angeles County Exonerations
On August 27, 2016, Mark Tyree and Tony Smith got into an argument outside a restaurant in Los Angeles, California.

Tyree had gone to the restaurant with his estranged wife, Imani Bakari-Tyree, and they had run into Smith, who had intermittently dated Bakari-Tyree for several years.

At one point, Tyree told Smith to “just stand right here until I get back,” before walking towards the parking lot. A customer at the restaurant, Amanda Cummings, said out loud, “He’s going to get a gun.”

Smith was with his friend, Kevin Black. Tyree returned to resume the argument, now yelling at both men. He approached Black. A shot rang out. Tyree fell to the ground and died later that day. He was 53 years old.

While plenty of customers and employees at the restaurant heard and saw the argument, none of them witnessed the actual shooting. Bakari-Tyree initially told police at the crime scene that Smith was the shooter and that he had told Tyree to “back off my woman.” She did not mention Black. In a later interview, she said that Black told Tyree, “You better back up off my OG homie,” and then heard Smith tell Black to “pop” Tyree.

Detective Eric Crosson of the Los Angeles Police Department obtained surveillance video from the restaurant and reviewed the footage. It showed Black entering the restaurant with a backpack. Then Smith and Tyree and Bakari-Tyree come into view. Tyree then walks outside, followed by Bakari-Tyree. Black could be seen putting his backpack on top of a trash receptacle and rummaging through it. Smith comes back and looks at his cell phone and then looks at Black. A short while later, Black puts on his backpack and leaves the restaurant with what appears to be a black object in his hand. He disappears from the footage. Tyree comes into view and appears to be talking to Smith when the shot is fired and he falls to the ground.

Smith and Black were arrested and charged with first-degree murder. Smith was also charged with possession of a weapon by a felon. During questioning, Smith initially denied any knowledge of the shooting but then told detectives that Tyree had a bulge in his pocket which he assumed was a gun.

Smith and Black were tried jointly in Los Angeles County Superior Court before Judge Kathleen Kennedy. They said the shooting was done in self-defense.

Bakar-Tyree testified about the argument that preceded the shooting, and said that Black had shot Tyree at Smith’s urging. She said that Tyree had not yelled at either man, that he was merely “frustrated.” No other witnesses said they heard Smith say anything to Black in the moments before the shooting.

The surveillance video became a key piece of evidence. The restaurant had given it to police on a disc loaded with Forward Looking InfraRed (FLIR) software that played back at a rate of one frame per second. The jury viewed the video during the trial, with Crosson explaining what was going on in the video.

The jury also viewed the video during its deliberations, which lasted three days. On June 6, 2017, the jury convicted both Smith and Black of second-degree murder. Black was also convicted on a weapons-possession charge; Smith was acquitted on his weapons charge.

Immediately after the trial, jurors casually revealed that they had viewed a much higher-quality video during deliberations than during the trial. One juror described it as “movie quality.” The jury foreperson said the video was much smoother and clearer.

To view the video during deliberations, jurors had been given a clean laptop with no Internet access and limited software. The computer had Windows Media Player installed along with a separate piece of software called a “codec” that enabled the surveillance video to run at 30 frames per second, creating a smoother, more nuanced account of the argument and the shooting.

Attorneys for Smith and Black quickly filed motions to interview jurors about potential misconduct and for a new trial. Judge Kennedy rejected both motions, stating that there was no juror misconduct and that Smith and Black didn’t suffer any prejudice from the jury viewing the enhanced video.

Smith was then sentenced to 36 years to life in prison; Black received a sentence of 40 years to life.

Both men appealed. On August 28, 2019, California’s Second District Court of Appeals vacated the convictions of both men. In its opinion, the court wrote: “The People argue the computer did not show new evidence: it merely afforded greater scrutiny of an exhibit that was already before it. Not so. Tens of thousands of frames of unadmitted video evidence were shown to the jury—frames all counsel and the court never even knew existed.”

The court said that while there was no misconduct on the part of police, prosecutors or jurors, the enhanced video was evidence that had not been properly admitted into court. Smith was convicted as an aider and abettor, and the 30 frames-per-second video showed Smith exhibiting a startled reaction after the gun is fired. The court said that supported the argument that Smith had no idea Black was going to shoot Tyree.

Similarly, the enhanced video showed Tyree moving toward Black just before Black fired the gun. The appellate court said that could support Black’s argument of imperfect self-defense.

Smith was released from prison on November 6, 2019. His charge was dismissed on December 3, 2020.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 5/25/2021
Last Updated: 5/25/2021
County:Los Angeles
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2016
Sentence:36 years to Life
Age at the date of reported crime:
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No