CHULA VISTA, Calif. — A man who fatally stabbed another driver seven times in the South Bay following a road rage dispute was sentenced to 16 years to life in state prison on Monday.
Rickey Vernon Smith, 61, was convicted last fall of second-degree murder for the Nov. 27, 2018, slaying of 36-year-old Horace Williams Jr., a father of five.
At Smith's sentencing hearing, Williams' family members described him as a loving, caring man, especially to his five daughters, who range in age from 2 to 9.
Sasha Martinez, mother to four of Williams' daughters, said he was "my happiness, my home, my safe haven."
The two were to be married in March 2019.
"Never did I imagine this future that we are now forced to live with because of the defendant's choices," Martinez said.
Williams' parents, younger brother and friends also addressed the court.
Smith's wife of 40 years, friends, and family also addressed the judge.
Laura Smith said her husband was a "strong, sweet, kind man" with no prior criminal record. She urged the judge not to define Smith solely by one act.
"Rickey is not this murderer, this cold-hearted murderer that people want him to look like. This is not my husband," she said.
Others also spoke on Smith's behalf and described him as a generous, church-going man.
San Diego County Superior Court Judge Garry G. Haehnle said that while he appreciated the comments from Smith's loved ones, he had to take into account that "I have yet to see any remorse from Mr. Smith for his actions that day. None."
"I don't know where that Rickey Smith was on Nov. 27, that we all heard about, that everyone talks so highly about, but he wasn't there that day," the judge said.
Haehnle said he was struck by Smith's answer during the trial when the prosecutor asked him how he felt after discovering Williams had died and the defendant responded, "That bothered me."
The two drivers got into an argument that occurred along a series of southern San Diego County roadways, and involved Williams throwing a soda cup at Smith's pickup truck and Smith ramming Williams' minivan during the long back-and-forth dispute.
Deputy District Attorney Makenzie Harvey alleged that after cutting Williams off for the final time, Smith got out of his truck, walked up to Williams' driver's side window and punched him.
He then walked away, pulled out a knife from a holster strapped to his hip, walked back to the minivan and stabbed Williams multiple times, with the fatal blow puncturing Williams' heart, the prosecutor said. Williams also sustained stab wounds to his arms and legs.
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Witnesses saw Williams get out of his van and collapse in the roadway, bleeding heavily. Paramedics took him to Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, where he was pronounced dead.
Jurors heard the 911 call Smith made shortly after the stabbing, in which he said Williams cut him off and threw a drink at his truck. Smith told the dispatcher that he followed Williams to find out why he did that, then later admitted to punching and stabbing Williams. Smith said in the call that it was Williams who did the punching and that he stabbed Williams in self- defense, to prevent further punching.
Smith also said that Williams threw a drink at his vehicle "for no reason at all."
"I was just minding my own business," he told the dispatcher. "It wouldn't have happened if he wouldn't have been bothering me."
Defense attorney Brian Watkins told jurors in his closing argument that Williams was the aggressor and that he punched Smith twice in the face when Smith approached his window. Only after Williams began reaching for something near the center console did Smith produce his knife "as a last resort," Watkins said.
Harvey countered that there was no physical evidence of injuries to indicate Smith had been punched.
She also emphasized that Smith never made mention of Williams reaching for a weapon in his phone call with the 911 dispatcher. Further investigation showed that Williams was unarmed, though Watkins said Smith's belief that Williams could have been reaching for a weapon was enough to qualify for lawful self-defense.
Watkins alleged that "Horace Williams created this situation" by cutting his client off on the road, then throwing the drink at his truck, which "goes well above and beyond your normal road rage."
Watkins said that after punching his client twice, Smith produced the knife to defend himself. The attorney said that as Smith was holding the blade toward his attacker, Williams tried to get out of his van to fight Smith and ran into the blade at least twice at chest level.
Harvey told the jury there was "no way" the stabbing could have occurred the way the defense presented, citing the heavy material of Williams' clothing and how deep the stab wounds penetrated, which she alleged could only happen through forceful thrusts made by the defendant.