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Editorial: Justice for Edwin Smith

The St. Albans resident was convicted of murder in a trial that made a mockery of the criminal justice system. The murder conviction was overturned when a judge ruled that Smith's first attorney did not properly explain plea bargain that had been offered to him, the same plea bargain that he eventually agreed to late last year. Smith was resentenced to 7 1/2 to 15 years in prison. He is eligible for parole in 2 1/2 years.

What Smith did was wrong and his actions resulted in the death of Lt. John Clancy. But Smith did not intend for anyone to get hurt, nor did he act with depraved indifference to human life. Smith and his girlfriend sought shelter in the basement of an abandoned house in South Jamaica on New Year's even 1995. The pair lit a homemade candle that set a blanket and eventually the house on fire. Lt. Clancy was killed as he searched for possible victims in the house.

Smith was guilty of trespass and he was guilty of using crack cocaine. The cocaine contributed to the bad judgment that resulted in the fire. But does any of this add up to murder? Every year dozens of fires are caused by the careless use of candles but the people who lit those candles are never prosecuted. They are not charged with arson.

To some degree, the fault here lies with the criminal justice system. It is possible that the district attorney never intended to charge Smith with murder. The murder charge was for leverage, a tool to convince Smith to plead to a lesser charge. The same prosecutor routinely allows real murderers to plea to manslaughter rather than risk losing altogether in a jury trial.

Then there is politics. Smith was crack addict. The man who died was a hero, the devoted husband of an expecting wife. Lt. Clancy's brother firefighters demanded that Smith be punished.

Smith and his attorney Ron Kuby are satisfied with the new arrangement. With any luck, Smith will be out of prison in a few years and, hopefully, he will be drug free and ready to lead a productive life. But the fact remains that the Queens District Attorney was ready to allow Smith to spend the rest of his life in prison for lighting a candle in a basement on a cold December's night. We find that frightening.

Power for the people

We are disappointed that the New York Power Authority (NYPA) has decided not to listen to the growing number of Queens residents who don't want a power plan built on the waterfront in Long Island City.

Last week, Borough President Claire Shulman and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer joined Silver Cup Studios in urging the NYPA to build their plant somewhere else. They argued that the plant was not consistent with plans to revitalize the waterfront and that it might force Silver Cup to relocate to New Jersey.

The opponents then offered an alternative location. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. The NYPA said it is going forward with its plans and will start construction in the next two weeks.

In light of the power shortage in California, no one can deny the urgent need for the supplemental power stations. The NYPA must move quickly but it must not ignore common sense and the needs of the community. If the alternative sites are adequate, the NYPA should listen to the voice of the people.

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