gavel

Freedom seemed tantalizingly close for Kevin Smith in November. But three months later, the New Orleans man whose crack cocaine case was dismissed after he spent almost eight years waiting to go to trial remains behind bars after a canceled parole hearing.

Smith, 51, is still incarcerated at a privately run prison in Ferriday despite a judge’s finding that his constitutional right to a speedy trial had been denied. Smith has missed Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family due to a lingering parole issue.

Smith was arrested in February 2010, when State Police and federal agents raided his Carrollton residence. Officials said they found baggies of crack cocaine inside a safe.

Sunday was the eighth anniversary of his arrest.

Smith faced a sentence of 20 years to life if convicted as a habitual offender, thanks to prior drug convictions. For more than seven years, he maintained his innocence. He also endured a series of legal delays, some prompted by prosecutors and some by his own attorneys.

Smith’s trial was delayed once by Hurricane Isaac and another time by a mental competency hearing. In 2015, he was offered a deal under which he could have been released in exchange for pleading guilty — but he rejected the agreement because he said he was innocent.

In 2016, Smith filed a motion on his own behalf arguing that his right to a speedy trial had been denied. His defense lawyers took the motion up and won a ruling in his favor by the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal.

Criminal District Court Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier ordered Smith’s release in November. Yet he remained locked up at the River Correctional Center, a privately run prison owned by LaSalle Corrections that handles Louisiana inmates.

Although Smith’s charge from the 2010 arrest had been dismissed, he was still on parole for a prior drug conviction. Ken Pastorick, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, said Smith was placed on a parole hold because he had changed his address without permission.

The Louisiana Board of Pardons & Parole scheduled a hearing on Smith’s case for Jan. 25. However, despite notices sent to both Smith and the River Correctional Center administration, he was never transported to another prison to appear before the board via teleconferencing.

LaSalle Corrections and the state parole board did not return requests for comment from The Advocate.

Pastorick said the administration at River Correctional Center failed to follow an order to transport Smith.

The delays in holding a hearing that could last less than an hour have been stressful for Smith, according to his cousin Michael.

“He’s doing bad, perfectly honest with you,” Michael Smith said. “He’s in there with hardened criminals.”

Michael Smith said he was also distressed that the lawyer who handled his cousin’s original case, Martin Regan, asked for more money to represent him at the parole hearing.

Regan said his firm now has agreed to represent Kevin Smith pro bono. He will be assisted by one of Smith’s appeals attorneys, Christen DeNicholas.

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

msledge@theadvocate.com | (504) 636-7432