Ex-Queens couple plead in 1979 abduction of boy

Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like TimesLedger on Facebook.

A former Jamaica Estates couple pleaded guilty to charges they kidnapped the toddler they thought they had adopted 22 years ago in State Supreme Court in Kew Gardens Tuesday after working out a deal with the Queens district attorney

Barry, 56, and Judith Smiley, 55, formerly of 80-51 190th St. and now living in Albuquerque, N.M., pleaded guilty under an agreement with Queens DA Richard Brown as jury selection in their trial was beginning. Under the plea bargain agreement, Barry pleaded guilty to second-degree kidnapping and Judith pleaded guilty to custodial interference.

The two admitted their guilt as the boy they abducted, Matthew Propp, now 23, watched with a pained expression on his face.

“It obviously isn’t perfect,” Propp said outside the courtroom after the hearing. “It’s jail time and that’s upsetting. I still love them very much.”

The Smileys were scheduled to be sentenced July 30, when Barry was expected to receive a two- to six-year term and Judith to draw six months in prison and five years’ probation, said Justice Roger Rosengarten, who accepted the plea agreement Tuesday afternoon.

The Smileys used the aliases Mary and Bennett Propp for more than 20 years while living on the lam with the boy.

The newborn was taken from the hospital by his maternal grandfather, who allegedly tricked his 19-year-old daughter, Deborah Gardner, into signing adoption papers. He then passed the newborn to an attorney who gave the child to the Smileys.

Months later, Gardner and her boyfriend, Anthony Russini, the child’s father, went to family court to get the boy back.

The Smileys fled New York in 1980 when they were ordered by a Queens Family Court judge to return the boy to his biological parents, who claimed the adoption that put the 15-month-old in the care of the couple was not legal.

‘This is a terribly sad and tragic case that has torn apart the lives of two families,” Brown told a news conference after the plea hearing. “The hurt that has been done to the birth parents, Anthony Russini and Debbie Gardner, is incalculable and their son, Matthew, has been left bewildered by his circumstances and torn by love.”

The Smileys’ lawyers have been trying to reach a plea agreement with the district attorney for months, but Russini, Matthew’s biological father, had been adamant that the couple stand trial. The defendants’ health conditions and the emotions involved in the case prompted the deal, said Steven Brill, who represents Judith.

Judith who pleaded to a lesser charge and sentence, has knee and kidney problems and was expected to spend her six-month jail term in the infirmary at Rikers Island, Brill said.

“Ms. Smiley’s health situation is a lot more critical than her husband’s,” Brown said. “We felt the difference in sentence was appropriate under the circumstan­ces.”

As part of the agreement the district attorney is not allowed to charge the Smileys with identity theft for the aliases they used while living in New Mexico.

The deal also stipulates that the Smileys make restitution up to $100,000 to the Russini family, who spent years searching for the boy.

“It’s not what I hoped for, but it is vindication,” Russini said of the plea agreement. “To hear them say they are guilty is a good thing. We were hoping for an apology, but we didn’t expect to get it.”

But outside the courtroom, Barry Smiley was more than willing to give that apology.

“We never intended to cause him any pain at all,” he said of Russini. “We are truly sorry for the pain we did cause.”

Despite the jail sentences they are facing, the Smileys seemed in good spirits as they left the court.

“I’m relieved that it’s over. He’s with us and that’s the important thing,” Judith said, referring to Matthew.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like TimesLedger on Facebook.

Reader feedback

Enter your comment below

By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:

You agree that you, and not or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

CNG: Community Newspaper Group