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Northcott shooting suspect appears in court

Oct. 30, 2013 @ 09:22 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Antonio Michael Smith, the man accused of shooting six people along Hal Greer Boulevard last month, made his first court appearance Tuesday in Huntington as unsealed documents now indicate how authorities tracked him to Brooklyn, N.Y.

Tuesday's hearing concerned an unrelated federal indictment that charges Smith with heroin distribution in February and having been a convicted felon in possession of a firearm a month earlier. He pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Prosecutor Sharon Frazier, who splits time between federal and state court, offered no comment when asked about the status of charges related to the Sept. 24 shooting at Northcott Court, a public housing complex along Hal Greer Boulevard. Smith never has been arraigned on those charges, which include six counts of malicious wounding and a single count of wanton endangerment. No hearing dates are scheduled.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl A. Eifert, in considering the federal drug and firearm charges, ordered Smith to jail without bond pending his Jan. 7, 2014, trial date in U.S. District Court. She cited Smith's criminal record in calling any pretrial release a danger to society. She also referred to Smith as a flight risk.

Smith, 31, smiled and waved at his girlfriend as he entered court Tuesday morning. He asked her about a child and then could be heard disputing some aspects of his criminal record with an attorney. He is incarcerated at the Carter County Detention Center in Grayson, Ky.

The federal indictment, while unrelated to the Sept. 24 shooting, provided city police with the access to a federal warrant needed to track the location of a cellphone belonging to Smith, according to a search warrant affidavit filed Oct. 2 and unsealed Oct. 15.

A witness told investigators Sept. 29 that Smith had contacted the witness's phone from a New York area code. Another witness confirmed Smith had been known to use that phone number and Sprint Communications verified him as the subscriber, according to the affidavit. The account was linked to a post office box in Irvine, Calif.

Authorities then secured an emergency order with Sprint, which allowed investigators to determine his last known phone usage as having occurred at 4 a.m. Sept. 29 in Brooklyn. The call was made to a known associate of Smith's who lived in Huntington. That person verified the call as having come from Smith, the affidavit states.

Investigators bolstered their argument for tracking the cellphone's location by mentioning Smith's sister lived in Brooklyn. Witnesses said Smith had lived with his sister in New York during 2013, but returned to West Virginia prior to the September shooting.

Eifert signed and issued the tracking warrant at 3:55 p.m. Oct. 2.

Investigators soon located the phone by obtaining its ping data and its latitude and longitude information, according to a property return filed Oct. 15. That led to Smith's apprehension Oct. 3, which took place as part of a raid organized and coordinated by a New York-based FBI S.W.A.T. unit.

Those injured in the Sept. 24 shooting received gunshot wounds to their legs, but none was life threatening and some victims were released from medical care within hours. Investigators believe many of the victims ran to a nearby gasoline station, where a police press release said officers later found a stolen firearm outside and a significant amount of crack cocaine in the business's restroom.

Huntington Police Cpl. Ryan Bentley said Tuesday that investigators believe the Sept. 24 shooting stemmed from an altercation Smith had with some of the victims days before.

Prior court records show Smith with felony convictions for unlawful wounding and robbery, in addition to a drug charge resolved with a plea to attempt to commit a felony.

Eifert's written detention order Tuesday noted Smith has "a long-standing substance abuse issue using marijuana as much as 10 times a day." It further states Smith has minimal family ties to Huntington with no financial assets, steady address or community involvement locally.

Follow Curtis Johnson at Facebook.com/curtisjohnsonHD and via Twitter @curtisjohnsonHD.

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