A Marshall County man was released from jail Friday after serving more than 17 years in prison. He was even on Alabama’s death row for capital murder.
Larry Randell Smith hugged his mother, Sherry Miller, as soon as he walked out of the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office. Other friends waited to greet him.
Smith was convicted in August 1995 of the September 1994 robbery and shooting death of his friend, Dennis Harris.
He appealed, and his conviction and death sentence was upheld by the Alabama Supreme Court in 1999.
Smith continued to appeal, and in 2010, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously ruled that he had an ineffective attorney defending him.
On Friday, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit armed robbery in the first degree.
District Attorney Steve Marshall said prosecutors are comfortable with the resolution because the victim’s mother, Diane Maier, believes it is appropriate.
“The mother of the victim, who sat through the original trial as well as the [capital punishment hearing], firmly believed that Larry Smith did not pull the trigger and kill her son,” Marshall said.
“She believed he was involved, but also believes that Larry Smith can help that family determine who else was involved in the murder of her son. She felt it was very important that that be part of what happened.”
Maier is in poor health and was not present for this court appearance, but affirmed her support for Smith during a phone call with prosecutors Friday morning.
The district attorney said the plea agreement was also due to a lack of evidence.
“This is a murder case that’s almost 20 years old,” said Marshall. “For us to be able to go back and retry it was next to impossible.”
“I think any time you have delay in the prosecution of cases, it is to the disadvantage of the prosecution,” Marshall added. “It was a significant disadvantage in this case to have the facts presented to us almost 20 years later to have to deal with it.”
Prosecutors said some witnesses do not recall the circumstances of of their trial testimony before, and there are witnesses who have changed their testimony from what they initially told law enforcement.
Marshall said the investigation into the murder of Dennis Harris will continue, and as part of the plea agreement, Larry Smith will be interviewed further by investigators.
“One of the things that was important to [Harris' mother] is that Mr. Smith be released to be able to cooperate with law enforcement,” Marshall said.
“Mr. Smith’s lawyers have had an investigator working on this case for several years. They have information that otherwise law enforcement did not have available to them previously that they have been willing to provide and are obligated to provide.”
Larry Smith said he is ready to move forward with life after serving 17 years and 5 months in prison, much of it on death row.
“I’m just glad it’s over and I’m ready to go home,” he said.
Smith’s mother said she is ready to fix her son a home-cooked meal for the first time in nearly two decades.
“I’m on top of the world, I thank God for this, for his freedom,” Smith’s mother said.
“It’s been miserable. I can’t say the words of what I’ve been through. It’s been so depressing.
“I knew all these years my son was innocent. Something he did not do.”
Miller said her relationship with the victim’s mother has helped her through it.
“We’ve been good friends through all these years, she’s been wonderful support,” Miller said about Diane Maier.
“She knows that my son was innocent. She never had no doubts. From day one she knew he was innocent.”
Smith and Miller said they hope to soon go camping and fishing together.