Defendant convicted of second degree murder in death of Fairbanks man

Published: Jun. 30, 2021 at 4:52 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Fairbanks Judge Brent Bennett announced his verdict in a murder trial involving a self defense claim. Ryder Smith, 23, was acquitted a charge of first degree murder, but found guilty of second degree murder. Smith was also acquitted of a charge of tampering with physical evidence.

For the second degree murder charge, Smith faces a 15-99 year sentence.

Smith of was arrested in November of 2019 and charged with first and second degree murder in the shooting death of Peter Horace-Wright. According to the Alaska State Troopers, Smith had reported the shooting and stated that he was acting in self-defense when he shot Horace-Wright.

In announcing the first degree murder acquittal, Judge Bennett stated he found that there was reasonable doubt as to whether death was Smith’s intention. On the lesser charge of second degree murder, Bennett ruled that it was clear that Smith showed extreme indifference for Horace-Wright’s life when he shot him multiple times with a shotgun.

Bennett said that he found no basis that the shooting was self defense. He said that from the evidence presented at the case, it was clear that the two men were at least a yard apart when the shooting took place and there was no way that Horace-Wright was strangling Smith as Smith claimed.

“Mr. Smith was at control at that moment and didn’t need to kill Mr. Horace-Wright,” Bennett said.

Smith opted to present his case directly to the judge in a bench trial in front of Bennett. At a bench trial, there is no jury; rather, the judge renders the verdict based on the evidence presented at the case.

Judge Bennett called the parties to the courthouse at around 9 a.m. on Wednesday to hear the verdict. Supporters for Horace-Write gathered outside the courthouse for a demonstration while the verdict was read. After the verdict was announced, supporters of Horace-Wright embraced and cried as they heard the news.

Peter Horace-Wright's mother is joined by friends and family outside of the Fairbanks...
Peter Horace-Wright's mother is joined by friends and family outside of the Fairbanks courthouse after Judge Brent Bennett announced Ryder Smith was guilty of murdering Horace-Wright.(John Dougherty/KTVF)

Horace-Wright’s mother, Bernadette Demientieff, was in the court while the verdict was read. Afterwards she spoke with us about the case. “We’ve been struggling, it’s been ongoing, but I just hope now that we can start getting some sort of peace. There’s like a thousand pound brick on my chest.”

While she is glad Smith is being held accountable, she says it won’t bring her son back. “I can’t hear his voice anymore, I can’t hear him coming in the house calling for me.”

Initially troopers had told Demientieff that her son was killed when he attempted to break into a building. “I had a lot of doubt in the beginning, and then the story changes, and then it changed again, and again, and again,” she said.

With Ryder being found guilty, Demientieff said she will continue fighting for justice and work to see Smith get the maximum sentence possible. She also encouraged anyone in her situation to not be afraid to stand up and speak for what they know is right.

We spoke with Smith’s attorney Gary Stapp who declined to comment on the verdict.

Smith is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 28.

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