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Convicted killer of Skeeta Smith sentenced to life in prison — again

For the second time in his 39 years, Tadashi Keyes has been sentenced to life in prison.

Keyes was sentenced Monday for the murder of Eldridge “Skeeta” Smith in Charlottesville Circuit Court. Keyes, who has maintained his innocence, was found guilty of first-degree murder and use of a firearm in commission of a felony during a three-day trial back in September.

“My condolences,” Keyes said before receiving his sentence in court Monday. “Especially to his kids, no kid should have to grow up without a father. To the family that knew me most of my life, I was not the triggerman on Jan. 28.”

A father of four, Smith was found dead in an SUV near Fifeville Park on the night of Jan. 28, 2023. He had been shot 14 times. Police determined the gunman had wielded a stolen 9mm pistol.

A leader of the city’s BUCK Squad, an organization dedicated to ridding Charlottesville’s streets of gun violence, Smith had been trying to get Keyes a job with the group at the time of his murder.

No motive for the murder was mentioned during Monday’s sentencing, nor during the trial last year.

But evidence recovered from Smith’s phone shows that just 32 minutes before his death, Smith had messaged another BUCK Squad leader to say, “I got a guy who would work. He got his head on right" — an apparent reference to Keyes.

Other messages presented to the jury during the trial showed the two men had planned to meet up.

The jury was also presented a gray hoodie that police said they found in a storm drain on Cherry Avenue. Prosecutors linked the article of clothing to a hoodie Keyes was captured on camera wearing the night of the killing at an ABC liquor store and later on surveillance footage that showed him running away from the scene of the crime.

That hoodie had a circular hole consistent with that of a burn mark with a similar diameter to the murder weapon that would have had plenty of residual heat to melt the pocket after firing off 14 bullets, said detective Ian Haug during the September trial.

That hoodie was brought up again on Monday, this time by Keyes.

In a statement made before the court, Keyes directed blamed his court-appointed defense attorney, Bryan Jones, for failing to object to assumptions made about the burn hole. He also expressed frustration at Jones’ failure to object to a “highly inflammatory” 43-minute recording of his interrogation by Charlottesville police investigator Ronald Stayments.

“I cannot jump up and say ‘objection’ myself, your honor,” said Keyes. “My Sixth Amendment right has been violated.”

His pleas failed to crack the resolve of retired Judge H. Thomas Padrick Jr., who called Smith’s murder one of the worst things he’d heard in his more-than-30-year-long career.

Padrick granted the commonwealth’s request for the maximum sentence, life, in addition to three years on a firearms charge.

“This is your second life sentence, we’ll see if this one holds,” Padrick told Keyes after the sentence was rendered.

Keyes received his first life sentence at the age of 18 after he was found guilty for conspiracy to distribute 50-plus grams of cocaine and possession and use of a firearm during and in relation to drug trafficking. As he would do two decades later, Keyes maintained his innocence throughout the drug-conspiracy trial.

After spending almost 20 years behind bars, Keyes was released on Sept. 20 of last year, four months and eight days before he killed Smith. Keyes’ prior sentence was reduced in part due to his young age, the fact that Keyes was present for but not guilty of murder as well as the 2010 passing of the Fair Sentencing Act, which “reduced sentencing disparities between cocaine and crack cocaine offenses, which were widely criticized for producing racially disproportionate sentencing outcomes.”

Prosecutor Nina-Alice Antony told the court Monday that in spite of the fact that Keyes had been described as an "enforcer" in the earlier narcotics conspiracy, that he had shot someone during a physical altercation, that he had been present for a homicide and had been written up for assaulting other inmates during his time behind bars, Judge Norman K. Moon of the U.S. District Court reduced his sentence to 280 months last March.

“He was given a second chance on life and used that chance, within four months, to execute another member of our community in cold blood,” said Antony.

Jones offered a few words from the defense after Antony, only asking for the low end of sentencing and for Padrick to consider that Keyes was exposed to “life on the streets” from a very young age.

Padrick decided two chances were enough, telling Keyes that “the justice system let down the Smith family in this case by letting you out.”

Keyes’ face revealed no emotion throughout Monday’s proceedings, even as he listened to two members of Smith’s family described their lost loved one to the court.

Smith’s uncle, Coaston Paige, spoke to his nephew’s love for his four children and fishing, saying “there wasn’t a pond where he couldn’t catch a nice-sized fish.” Paige described the family as being bent, not broken, but that some days his sister, Smith’s mother, is too overcome with grief to get out of bed.

Although Kelly Richardson is cousin on Smith’s mother side, he referred to Smith as a brother in a tearful statement.

“We always thought we’d grow old together; we’d planned what we’d be doing at 50, 60 years old,” said Richardson. “What he meant to me, I can’t sum it up to you. I didn’t think I’d ever have to be here.”

Close to 15 members of the Smith family sat across the aisle from Keyes’ parents and a friend during the 45-minute sentencing Monday. As the Smith family walked out of the courthouse, hugging and wiping away tears, several members of that family seemed to find a small amount of closure, saying:

“He got what he deserved.”

“Praise Jesus.”

“I am so happy.”


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