By Shavonne Walker
A judge sentenced a Salisbury man to over 33 years in prison following a Monday hearing regarding the 2012 death of Kannapolis teen, Daniel Lee Cooper.
Darius Jamal Smotherson, 22, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon and conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon. He’ll serve a total of 33.66 years to 43.49 years in prison for the offenses.
Investigators said and witness statements confirmed Smotherson met Cooper in the north Kannapolis area of Snow Street to buy a half ounce of marijuana. Smotherson told others including co-defendants Damarick Harper and Reginald Clark, he intended to rob the teen.
Harper, now 20, and Clark, now 38, remain in the Rowan County Detention Center, each under no bond and awaiting trials in their cases.
Cooper, 17, who was a senior at A.L. Brown High School, a few days shy of his 18th birthday and weeks before he was set to graduate, had been in contact with Smotherson by phone leading up to the drug deal, said Rowan District Attorney Brandy Cook.
Smotherson will serve his time after he serves his current sentence for felony assault inflicting serious injury following a June 2014 attack on a detention center officer. Smotherson, along with Khari McClelland and Quentin Mathis, were said to have punched an officer, breaking his nose and causing a concussion.
McClelland was charged with first-degree murder following the December shooting of firefighter Marco Kauffman, who interrupted a break-in at his Chenault Road home. Mathis was originally charged in May 2011 with attempted murder after a shooting at the Mooresville dragstrip. He is accused of shooting two men during a crowded event held at the dragstrip.
Cooper was found slumped over in a Honda Prelude driven to Snow Street by a longtime friend and ex-girlfriend, Liana Ferrero. She said she saw three men later identified as Smotherson, Harper and Clark at the scene. She picked Smotherson out of a photo lineup and said he was the person Cooper was scheduled to meet.
Ferrero said and investigators confirmed Cooper and Smotherson often bought and sold marijuana to each other. In this case, Ferrero’s fiance, Devin Hudson, gave Cooper the marijuana to sell to Smotherson. Ferrero witnessed the exchange between Smotherson and Cooper. The two men fought over a gun Smotherson had, Ferrero said in a statement.
Smotherson told Clark he needed the pistol Clark was carrying.
Daniel grabbed for the gun after Smotherson pointed it at Ferrero. Cooper was shot in the neck and Smotherson took off. Ferrero drove to a nearby home and asked if she could call 911.
Smotherson later told police investigators he planned to rob Cooper, but not kill him. He also said he believed the teen was shot in the shoulder. He was driven to Walmart by a friend to meet another friend, who took him to Charlotte. He said he intended to head to Texas, but got off the bus in Georgia. Police received a tip Smotherson was headed to Baltimore, Md. They intercepted him while getting off the bus at a welcome center in Laurel, Md., about a month after the murder.
Judge David Lee said Cooper, in some respects, was still a child who’d not had the opportunity to really live.
“There’s no justice in the loss of a child, a grandchild or a brother,” he said to Cooper’s family, who were present in the courtroom.
He advised the Cooper family to honor Daniel’s memory and move beyond the pain of loss.
Cooper’s family declined to speak during the hearing and afterward. The prosecutor told the court Cooper was preparing for graduation and he was a teen who’d made some bad decisions getting involved in drug activity.
Smotherson’s attorney James Davis spoke on his client’s behalf saying there wasn’t much to say, but that his client hoped the family could find it in their hearts to forgive him. Smotherson’s mother, Randi, only said she was sorry for the Cooper’s loss. Other family members declined to comment.
Davis said following the hearing these were tragic circumstances where both families lost much in this situation.
“It is a wonderful system of justice, but there is no perfect justice when someone loses a child,” Davis said.
Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.