Before Leon Smith was sentenced in the fatal stabbing of Stephan Pool, Pool’s youngest sister Julissa Valdez addressed him.
“My brother served you to protect you,” Valdez said, referencing his military service. “How could you get anything other than life in prison?”
In May, Smith pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and obstruction of justice in connection with the stabbing death of 45-year-old Pool. On Friday, Judge John Ramsey Johnson sentenced him to 20 years in prison for the second-degree murder charge and four years for the obstruction of justice charge, a total of 24 years.
According to prosecutors’ memorandum in aid of sentencing, Smith stabbed Pool in the heart with his pocket knife after he watched his girlfriend give Pool a hug and a “friendly peck on the cheek.” Earlier that day, there were signs that Smith was “having trouble controlling himself and his possessiveness over his girlfriend,” according to the document.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kravis called the act a “really brutal crime,” in which Pool was stabbed “while buckled in the seat of a car.”
Additionally, Smith later tried to interfere with the testimony of his girlfriend, which showed a lack of remorse, Kravis said.
At sentencing, Smith told the Pool family, “I’m very very sorry, from the bottom of my heart,” adding, “I understand if you don’t forgive me.”
Smith’s defense attorney Madeline Harvey emphasized that Smith lived “a horrible horrible life” and “making him suffer more is not going to bring [the Pool family’s] loved one back.”
Harvey expressed regret that she was not able negotiate a different plea where she “could’ve asked for as little as 13 years” for a man who still has “sweetness” and “vulnerability” despite the adversity he has faced. Under the terms of the agreement, prosecutors and defense attorney agreed Smith would be sentenced to 24 to 25 years in prison.
Friends and family remembered Pool in 18 pages of statements to the court, some handwritten and some typed:
“My uncle was the strongest person I knew,” wrote Pool’s niece. “And we really did have a special bond. Every year, I would send him a wallet sized picture of myself to him from school picture day. And whenever I would visit, I was the only person on the wall. Just me.”
Another friend, Ken Ifill, told the story of the time that Pool walked to his house in New York City during a blizzard, just to play video games. Pool would later guide him to become a network engineer, Ifill wrote.
After delivering his sentence, Judge Johnson encouraged Smith to “make the best of his situation,” including taking medications if directed.
“When someone dies as a result of what you did, that’s a long time to be in prison,” Judge Johnson told Smith.