CHULA VISTA, Calif. -- A man who stabbed another motorist seven times on a South Bay roadway following a road rage dispute was sentenced Monday to 16 years to life in state prison for causing the victim's death.
Rickey Vernon Smith, 61, was convicted last fall of second-degree murder for the November 27, 2018, slaying of 36-year-old Horace Williams Jr., a father of five.
The two drivers got into an argument that continued as they traveled along a series of southern San Diego County roadways, in which Williams threw a soda cup at Smith's pickup truck and Smith rammed Williams' minivan during the back-and-forth dispute.
Deputy District Attorney Makenzie Harvey told jurors that after cutting Williams off for the final time, Smith got out of his truck, walked up to the motorist's 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.
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.
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.
Speaking on behalf of the defendant was his wife of 40 years, among other friends and family.
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 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 November 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."
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 so, 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 attacks.
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 argued that 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 maintained it did, 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.