EBENSBURG – A Cambria County jury on Wednesday quickly found a Johnstown drug dealer guilty of ordering the murder of a confidential informant who had helped put him in jail.
Jurors deliberated for a little less than an hour before convicting Shakir Mosi Smith, 43, of both charges he faced, first-degree murder and criminal solicitation to commit first-degree murder, in connection with the killing of Carol Ashcom, 30, who was found shot to death inside her Lower Yoder Township home on March 11, 2015.
“A verdict like this gives you both a feeling of elation and a feeling of sadness,” said Senior Deputy Attorney General Michael T. Madeira, who prosecuted the case with the help of Cambria County Assistant District Attorney Forrest B. Fordham III.
“The elation comes from the fact that you see justice done. The sadness comes from the fact that, for the victim, they still don’t come back. Carol Ashcom is still gone. Gavin doesn’t have his mom. Her parents don’t have her. Even for the defendant, quite frankly – because of what this verdict was, a verdict of guilty on first-degree murder, the sentence will be life in state prison without the possibility of parole. It’s a mandatory sentence.”
Judge Patrick T. Kiniry scheduled Smith’s sentencing for 2 p.m. Oct. 22 and ordered a routine pre-sentence investigation.
Smith’s court-appointed defense attorney, Timothy Burns, said as he left the courtroom that he was “disappointed” in the outcome of the trial and that he plans to file an appeal after Smith is sentenced. He said that he thought the jury was prejudiced against his client “from the beginning” by the introduction of evidence about unrelated crimes.
The prosecution’s case was centered on its allegation that Smith ordered Ashcom’s death because she had acted as a confidential informant for the Office of Attorney General in a case that put him in prison. She conducted three controlled purchases of drugs in April 2014 that led to his arrest on drug charges, investigators testified.
Evidence presented by Madeira and Fordham during the three-day trial included Ashcom’s cellphone records, transcripts and recordings of phone calls Smith made and in-person visits he received while in prison, the testimony of four jailhouse informants who claimed Smith had confided in them about Ashcom’s murder and a cache of letters Smith wrote from behind bars to his then-girlfriend, India Snyder.
A number of Smith’s letters to Snyder indicate that he was carefully examining the state’s case against him to determine who its anonymous confidential informant was: “I kan’t stop trying to figure out who these fake 3 sells are from,” he wrote in one letter. “My gut is saying Carol. But I’m really not sure.”
Eventually, he confirmed Ashcom’s role by comparing the identification number of the informant in his case to that included in another defendant’s paperwork: “I went to court again on Friday. I found out it’s Carol on the new sells. Maino went to court. First thing I did was have him check his CI #. 509114. It was her. The same as mine.”
Statements in later letters show Smith’s belief in Ashcom’s importance to the prosecution: “We are f—ed unless the white b—h go.” “I know without Carol, I’ll be so Gucci.” “I get that 3 to 6, I’ll be happy as h—. S—! If Carol goes away, I can get less than that.” (Smith ultimately did plead guilty to several felonies and was sentenced to three to six years in state prison.)
In a letter postmarked Jan. 23, 2015, Smith wrote, “I want that Honkie put down like a rabbit (rabid) DOG! Look what this b— did to us. Go off that bitch.”
“Tell Sheek to show Los where that honkie lives,” Smith wrote in a letter to Snyder postmarked Feb. 28, 2015, less than two weeks before Ashcom’s murder. Prosecutors said that was an order to have his son, Shakir Smith Jr., show the location of Ashcom’s home to Mizzon Grandinetti, 20, Smith’s nephew, who has been named by investigators as the gunman who killed Ashcom.
Smith, who testified in his own defense Wednesday, claimed that he didn’t order Ashcom’s murder, that he didn’t know who killed her, that the informants who testified otherwise were lying in attempts to get leniency in their own criminal cases and that the references to Ashcom in his letters were simply expressions of frustration and anger, not instructions to have her killed.
“I kind of wished death on her,” he said. “That was wrong. That was messed up. … When I was saying it, I didn’t really think it was going to happen.”
Also testifying for the defense Wednesday was Grandinetti, who has not been charged in connection with Ashcom’s death, but is serving a four- to eight-year sentence at SCI-Benner Township in a separate case. Grandinetti, who was 14 at the time of Ashcom’s murder, maintained in response to questions from Burns that he did not kill Ashcom, that Smith had never instructed him to commit a crime and that he had never heard of Ashcom until he started hearing about her murder in the news.
Madeira asked Grandinetti about testimony from his ex-girlfriend on Tuesday that he had once admitted to shooting a “white b—h” in front of her son because “he was scared of her being a snitch.” Grandinetti suggested that the woman was motivated to lie about him because he’d cheated on her and physically abused her during their relationship.
“Y’all are going to believe whatever y’all want,” he said. “I’m just here to tell my side of the story.”
Madeira indicated after the verdict was returned that the investigation into Ashcom’s murder is not being closed with Smith’s conviction.
“This investigation is ongoing,” he said. “It has been – even during the pendency of Mr. Smith’s being incarcerated, it’s ongoing. … I expect the investigation to continue and to have some good results from that, but … you have to make sure that you have that probable cause.
“Because many of the crimes that we were asked by the district attorney’s office to assist in investigating and prosecuting are homicides, there’s no statute of limitations, so there’s no rush to do that. What’s more important to us is that we do it right so that we can get a verdict like this.”
"The prosecution was a collaborative effort between the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General and the Cambria County District Attorney’s Office," Cambria County District Attorney Greg Neugebauer said in a statement after the verdict was returned.
"This case demonstrates law enforcement’s dedication to solving crimes and was the culmination of hours upon hours of investigation into the dealings of Mr. Smith. Our community is safer as a result of the work of the officers, investigators, attorneys and the jury. We thank each and every one of the dozens of people who were involved in this case.”