Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

'Because I Was Told To'

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

'Because I Was Told To'

Article excerpt

Soft-spoken and neatly pressed, a 17-year-old Newark boy told jurors seated in Superior Court on Tuesday that he did as he was told -- even when it came to fatally shooting a stranger in the chest on July 10, 2009, in Passaic.

Devante Smith was 15 when, as an up-and-coming member of the Bloods street gang, he was given various tests by higher-ranking members, he testified before jurors and Judge Raymond A. Reddin in Paterson.

Smith testified in the trial of Donald Thomas, who is charged with murder and felony murder for allegedly ordering Smith to rob and kill a man in the summer of 2009. Thomas also is accused of giving Smith a 9mm handgun.

"He told me just to hold it until he asked for it back," Smith testified.

"Did you want to take the gun?" asked Passaic County Senior Assistant Prosecutor Robert Pringle.

"No," Smith said.

"Then, why did you?" Pringle asked.

"Because he told me to," Smith responded.

Smith said he hid the gun in the closet of the Newark apartment he shared with his mother.

Smith eventually asked him to return the gun, and he did, he said.

Two days later, he said, on July 10, 2009, Thomas gave him another test, ordering him to rob someone sitting in a car at Summer and Pine streets in Passaic. The man was a drug dealer who had $1,500 on him, Pringle previously told the jury during opening statements in the trial last week.

Thomas gave him a gun, Smith testified, telling the teen he was to order the man to hand over his money at gunpoint. If the man tried to drive away without complying, Thomas told Smith he was to shoot him, Smith testified.

"I just looked at him, shocked," Smith testified.

A friend of Thomas, also in the Bloods, told Smith in street language that he would be killed if he did not follow through on those orders.

"You already know what it is -- pow, pow, pow," Smith quoted the Bloods member as saying.

"What did that mean to you? …

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