A man accused of sexually assaulting three women over nearly a decade in New Orleans will avoid a lengthy prison term under a plea agreement he reached with prosecutors on Monday.
Instead, Rochelle Smith Jr. will be freed within months and required to register as a sex offender for the next 25 years. Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's office said problems with victim cooperation forced prosecutors to enter into plea deal negotiations.
All three victims approved of the deal, according to Cannizzaro's office.
Smith, 42, pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual battery and two counts of second-degree kidnapping. He originally was charged with first-degree rape.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Criminal District Court Judge Robin Pittman sentenced Smith to two years in prison, with credit for time served. He has been in jail since Aug. 2, 2017, so he likely will be released quickly. The state Department of Corrections has yet to calculate his release date.
Smith was charged with raping women in 2007, 2015 and 2016. Authorities said DNA connected him to all three attacks.
More than 30 years ago, a young woman told New Orleans police a harrowing story about an attack inside her home near the Tulane University campus.
In one incident, a homeless woman accused Smith of beating her with a glass bottle, choking her and raping her in an abandoned building in New Orleans East over the course of several hours, according to a nola.com article.
Defense attorney Jim Williams, who represented Smith along with Jeff Hufft, said his client maintained that all three encounters were consensual.
"They did the best that they could with what they had," Williams said of the prosecution. "Of course, we're faced with a situation where (Smith's) looking at three life sentences plus 80 years in jail. Sometimes — a lot of times — you take a guilty plea to something you didn't do because it's in your best interest. And that's what we did."
Assistant District Attorneys Arthur Mitchell IV and Kevin Guillory prosecuted the case.