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Pa. man sentenced in slaying of wife

January 22, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A Chambersburg man was sentenced to up to 40 years in prison Wednesday for the stabbing death of his wife during an argument in the couple's apartment last April.

Franklin County Judge Douglas W. Herman imposed the sentence on Lebert Smith, who pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in the death of his wife, Brenda Lee Smith. Herman added nine months to Smith's minimum time for use of a deadly weapon.

Smith, 50, of 12. W. Ludwig Ave., will be eligible for parole after serving eight years and four months, his lawyer said.

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Smith has been in jail since his arrest on April 2, 1996, the day after his wife's body was found in the closet of their home, according to statements made in court Wednesday. He was given credit for time served.

Smith hung his head and cried when the sentence was read. He told Herman that he was sorry and that he had not intended to hurt his wife. She was stabbed in the chest, according to court records.

The judge said Smith's version that his wife tripped on a rug "was cloudy. It is hard to imagine that it could have happened that way." There was a struggle, she was stabbed and Smith had a knife, the judge said. "She was found in the closet. She could not have put herself there with such a mortal wound. You intended to harm her," Herman said.

Public Defender Paul Dean argued that cuts on the victim's hands did not show that she had struggled during the attack. But Herman said the pathologist who performed the autopsy on the victim said the cuts were defensive.

The judge said he considered the fact that Smith had a second-grade education, could not read or write, had no prior police record, was a stable employee at the hotel where he worked in the housekeeping department, and was a model prisoner.

In arguing for his client, Dean said Smith has difficulty dealing with his legal problems and the loss of his wife. He said Smith tried to kill himself in jail and was put on a suicide watch. Dean said he would not appeal Smith's sentence. "There's no basis," Dean said. "The sentence was in the standard range."

Defendants can challenge the legality of their sentences in Pennsylvania, even when they have entered guilty pleas.

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