A former Sewerage & Water Board employee is facing a mandatory life sentence after being convicted Wednesday of kidnapping, raping and robbing a woman who was seven months pregnant with twins.
Robert E. Smith, 42, was found guilty after a one-day judge trial in front of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Franz Zibilich.
The victim testified that she accepted a ride from Smith even though he was a stranger because it was better than walking through the rain.
He picked her up near Jackson and South Claiborne avenues in Central City, drove her to an auto repair shop's parking lot near Louisiana Avenue and South Miro Street, pulled out a gun and demanded sex from her, the woman said.
After he raped her, he ordered her to hand over money, she said. She said she gave him $75 and was allowed to leave, and he drove away in his pickup. The woman said she called police and underwent a sexual assault examination on Nov. 1, 2015, shortly after the incident.
The State Police crime lab matched DNA collected from that examination to a sample that Smith provided to law enforcement officials after he pleaded guilty in 2004 to masturbating outside a house in Lafayette, something he claimed he did during a "truth or dare" game gone awry.
Police arrested Smith on Dec. 29, 2016, while he was at his S&WB job, said prosecutors, who secured a grand jury indictment against him in April.
For his part, Smith testified that the sex with the victim was "a business deal."
"I paid her for sex," said Smith, who was wearing shackles and an orange prisoner's jumpsuit.
Smith's attorney, Morris Reed, argued that the woman was unsatisfied with the amount she was given, so she retaliated by calling the police and accusing Smith of abducting her, forcing her to have sex and stealing from her.
Assistant District Attorneys Laura Cannizzaro Rodrigue and Daniel Smart countered that tears found during the sexual assault examination were consistent with rape.
Rodrigue also noted that there was evidence suggesting the victim was on her stomach for part of the encounter, and she argued it defied logic that the victim would consent to being in that position given how far along she was in her pregnancy.
At the end of the trial, Zibilich told Smith he believed the victim. Alluding to testimony that Smith had cheated on his now-estranged wife with a woman not involved in the case, Zibilich said, "I don't understand, Mr. Smith, if you're such a stud, and they're giving it away, why you had to go and take it."
Smith shook his head after he was found guilty of first-degree rape, aggravated kidnapping and armed robbery with a firearm.
"That ain't right, man," he said, plopping down into a chair at the defense table. "I didn't do this, man."
The rape conviction carries automatic life imprisonment. Smith also faces between five and 40 years for the kidnapping conviction and between 15 and 99 years for the armed robbery conviction.
Zibilich scheduled a sentencing hearing for Jan. 12.
Reed said he expects his client to appeal.