Saturday, June 12, 2021

Prisoner in Quincy murders case may be released early

Community Editor | June 8, 2021 1:05 AM

A man sentenced to 50 years in prison for murdering a Quincy couple in 1997 is on track to be released soon, after serving less than half his sentence, as the Department of Corrections Indeterminate Sentence Review Board deemed him eligible.

But Grant County Prosecutor Garth Dano and the victims’ family said they believe the decision is wrong.

Adam Betancourt was 16 when he and co-defendants Donald Lambert, 15, and Marcus “David” Wawers, 15, armed themselves and walked to 89- and 88-year-old Homer and Vada Smithson’s home early in the morning on May 21, 1997. They stole knives and ammunition from an outbuilding, placing those and other items into a duffel bag. The teens then entered the home and bedroom, where the couple was sleeping in bed.

“Mr. Betancourt and Mr. Lambert both began shooting at the victims, shooting until they ran out of ammunition,” the ISRB wrote in its decision. “The three co-defendants ran outside where Mr. Betancourt and Mr. Lambert reloaded their guns, then exchanged them with each other.”

“They saw that the female victim had gotten up from the bed and both Mr. Betancourt and Mr. Lambert fired at her several times,” the ISRB wrote. “They then reloaded their guns again. Meanwhile, the female victim made it to the telephone in the kitchen and called her adult son. While she was on the phone with him, Mr. Betancourt and Mr. Lambert began shooting yet again, ultimately killing her. The female victim was hit at least seven times and the male was hit six times. He was alive when help arrived but died at the hospital a short time later.”

Betancourt was a Sureños gang member, as was most of his family, according to Dano. Betancourt apparently knew the couple, as they helped him in the past, Dano said, and Betancourt admitted he’d burglarized properties near Quincy before the murders.

Dano wrote in a letter to prosecutors statewide he was “truly sickened and disgusted by this result (decision) and doubt I will ever be able to get the taste out of my mouth.”

Betancourt was sentenced Dec. 23, 1997, for two counts of first-degree murder, with 300 months confinement for each count, running consecutively, or 600 months (50 years), according to the ISRB. He has served about 279 months (23.25 years) in prison and 217 days in jail.

Due to state legislation in 2014, offenders younger than 18 when they committed their crime(s) and were sentenced as adults can petition for early release after serving at least 20 years in prison, which is what Betancourt did.

In its May 3 decision, the ISRB said Betancourt “demonstrated positive prison behavior for approximately the past 12 years.” It also said he “continues to maintain employment and participate in available offender change programming and educational courses.”

Additionally, it said Betancourt had a “positive psychological evaluation” and “scored in the low range for psychopathy,” etc. But, It also said he had a “34% chance of committing a new violent offense in a 5-year period, or a 60% chance of recidivating in a 12-year period,” with the score based on historical data.

Betancourt has a fiancee, a 44-year-old with no criminal history and three adult children, the ISRB wrote.

The next step was for Betancourt to submit an offender release plan for consideration, it wrote.

However, Dano wrote Betancourt had 56 serious violations while in prison between 1997 and 2012 and his “prison behavior magically improved after Miller v. Alabama was decided.”

The court in that case held the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment forbade mandatory sentencing of life in prison without a parole possibility for juvenile homicide offenders and helped spur Washington’s own aforementioned legislation.

Betancourt originally was charged with two counts of aggravated first-degree murder with deadly weapon enhancements, Dano wrote, which would have resulted in life in prison without parole. However, Betancourt made a plea deal for 50 years in prison in exchange for testifying against his co-defendants.

Dano said he wrote “a very strong letter to the board in opposition to his (Betancourt’s) release.”

“The family and I spoke to the board virtually,” Dano wrote in his letter to prosecutors. “Two clinical psychologists tested, evaluated, and wrote reports in 2018 and 2020. Both opined that Betancourt has a 60% chance of violent re-offense within 12 years.”

Dano also wrote “the Smithson family is devastated by the actions of the board and has lost all faith in the judicial system. The ISRB process of reviewing criminal sentences every five years and dragging the family back to these hearings to relive their tragedy is cruel and wrong.”

“Another troubling aspect of this case was the actions of the Attorney General’s office,” Dano continued. “Following the previous 2018 parole hearing, the AG’s cut a deal to allow Betancourt to have an expedited hearing in 2021, rather than 2023 (five years), without letting the family know. Apparently, the matter needed to be heard expeditiously. After all, we don’t want the poor boy to get COVID in prison.”