Ex-Navy marksman gets 84-to-life in gang shooting
May 25, 2006
SAN DIEGO – A former Navy marksman convicted of killing an 18-year-old man he perceived as a gang rival was sentenced Thursday to 84 years to life in state prison for the car-to-car shooting.
Lawrence Christopher Smith, 25, was convicted March 30 of first-degree murder in the Nov. 26, 2004, death of Dom Perignon Champagne
in southeast San Diego.
A jury also found Smith guilty of attempted murder for pumping three shots into a cocaine dealer who owed him $80 on Sept. 12, 2004, and possession of marijuana for sale.
Jurors deadlocked on murder charges against Jimmy Lopez, Smith's then-16-year-old passenger at the time of Champagne was shot.
Lopez, now 18, pleaded guilty last week to shooting into an occupied vehicle and gang allegations and faces up to eight years in prison when he is sentenced July 13.
Deputy District Attorney Michael Runyon told the jury that it could have been either Smith or Lopez who fired the fatal shots that killed the victim.
Some witnesses identified Smith as the man who drove alongside the victim's vehicle near 47th Street and Ocean View Boulevard at 3:30 p.m. and opened fire, the prosecutor said.
Other witnesses told police that Lopez, the front passenger in Smith's car, was the shooter, Runyon said.
After the verdicts, jurors said they believed Smith shot across Lopez and killed Champagne, the prosecutor said.Perfect Engelberger
told Smith he had ruined her life by killing her son.
“Dom was the most important person in my life,” she said. “I'll never know why you had to murder my son or why he had to die such a horrible death.”
The mother said she wished the death penalty upon Smith. But since that wasn't possible, she told the defendant that she hoped he would suffer every day for the rest of his life in prison.
“I just hope you burn in hell,” Engelberger said.
But Smith, given a second change to speak, lashed out at the victim's mother, chastising her for not attending all of the trial.
“What you're doing is spitting on your own son's grave,” Smith told her. “I'm glad. I hope you do suffer as far as that goes.”
Smith also criticized the deal that Lopez struck with prosecutors.
Superior Court Judge Larrie Brainard told Smith he couldn't claim innocence before handing out the life sentence.
“Sadly, Mr. Smith, you don't seem to understand the (gravity) of your activities,” the judge said.
Outside court, Runyon said Engelberger was upset by Smith's remarks.
“His hateful and callous comments demonstrate his lack of remorse and utter hatred for the victim,” the prosecutor said. “In all my years of experience, I have never seen a defendant personally attack the mother of a murder victim and tell her that he hopes that she suffers for the rest of her life.”
The day after Thanksgiving 2004, Smith and Lopez were getting gasoline at a market at 47th and Market streets when Champagne drove by, the prosecutor said.
One of the two passengers in Champagne's car told police that the two men at the gas station were staring at them and threw up gang signs when they passed by, Runyon said.
Nobody in the victim's car responded to the gang signs, according to the prosecutor.
After driving away, the occupants in Champagne's car noticed an Oldsmobile Cutlass following them, Runyon said. The Oldsmobile pulled up next to the driver's side of Champagne's sedan and the passenger in the Cutlass uttered a gang slogan, the prosecutor said.
When Champagne rolled down his window to clarify what was said, he was shot under the left arm and head, Runyon said.
Mary Ellen Attridge, the attorney for Lopez, told jurors that her client was only in Smith's car that day because he needed a ride.
She said Champagne was a gang member who played “Crip-killing music” on his car stereo as he drove through the known Crips neighborhood.
Smith, a former marksman known as “Trigger One,” took the music as an affront and went after the victim in his car, Attridge told the jury.
She said police believe Lopez is a gang member because his older brother was a West Coast Crip.
Runyon said that during the trial, investigators found letters and rap lyrics in Smith's jail cell in which he compared himself to Lee Malvo, the then-17-year-old convicted in the Washington, D.C.,-area sniper shootings in 2002 that left 10 people dead.
One of the rap lyrics found in Smith's cell read, “The meek wouldn't speak so we had to shear them like sheep,” according to the prosecutor.
Runyon said Champagne was visiting his mother from Texas and had given a ride to his two passengers.
He said the passengers at one time had been affiliated with a gang.
Champagne was killed because of the color of his shirt and the music he had on, the prosecutor said.www.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/20060525-1630-champagne.html