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Charlottesville man pleads guilty to murdering romantic rival on Corner

The facts of a homicide whose details were kept under wraps for nearly a year emerged Thursday in a Charlottesville courtroom, where the suspect pleaded guilty.

Lakori Rayquan Brooks, a 22-year-old Charlottesville resident, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in what now appears to have been the execution-style slaying of 26-year-old Cody Brian Smith, also of Charlottesville, on March 18 of last year.

The prosecution presented Smith, who worked as a contractor at the University of Virginia, as the innocent party. Moments before his death, Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina-Alice Antony said Smith was “not saying anything,” “not doing anything.”

Police had revealed few details about the killing which occurred near Elliewood Avenue, a stub street on the Corner near the University of Virginia. The shooting sparked a flurry of official safety alerts from UVa urging people to shelter in place and warning that the suspect might be traveling east on Main Street in a silver sedan.

In court, Anthony presented surveillance footage and described what happened two hours after midnight at the end of what had been a festive St. Patrick’s Day for both victim and killer.

“There was some animosity,” said Antony.

She said both men had dated a local woman named Chyna Wise.

After dating Brooks then Smith, Wise returned to Brooks, with whom she has a child, and alleged Smith had abused her, according to Antony.

That night, various patrons were leaving the Biltmore Grill on the Corner and were headed back to their vehicles.

“What happened is really by happenstance,” Antony said. “They’re all walking in the same general direction.”

It was around 2 a.m.

“Are you following us?” Wise or a member of her party asked Smith, according to Antony.

Whether it was Smith’s decision to throw his hands skyward or his proximity to his ex-girlfriend, Antony said she couldn’t be sure what triggered Brooks. What she was sure of, thanks to the video evidence, was that Brooks suddenly ran toward Smith and shot him from behind.

Defense attorney Peter Frazier said that what caught his client’s eye was that Smith got within “touching distance” of Wise.

“Mr. Brooks thinks he’s making some sort of advance on Chyna,” Frazier said.

Frazier said that Smith’s own history of violence, including a felony strangulation conviction in the same Charlottesville courtroom, combined with a comment Smith made just before placing his hands in his pockets, led Brooks to believe that Smith was armed.

“Yeah, right,” someone on the victim’s side of the gallery interjected before a bailiff urged silence.

Smith, according to the prosecutor, was killed by a 9mm gunshot to his head and was also hit with four other bullets in his upper body. She said that investigators found nine cartridges at the scene.

At this information, sobs emanated from the suspect’s side of the courtroom.

“Mr. Brooks absolutely takes responsibility for what he did,” said Frazier, noting that his client turned himself in to police and waived his right to a preliminary hearing.

Frazier said he considered taking this case to trial and pushing for a manslaughter conviction. But, he told the court, a trial would have risked a first-degree murder conviction, which can carry a life sentence.

This guilty plea to a charge of second-degree murder and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony carries a combined maximum sentence of 43 years. Judge Claude Worrell set the sentencing for July 8.

“I love you,” said a woman crying in the gallery.

“I love you all,” responded Brooks, as he was led back to the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, where he’s been held since his arrest.


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