An Alameda High Court judge on May 23 sentenced a Berkeley man to 25 years in prison for killing a 19-year-old UC Berkeley student and Cosumnes Oaks High School graduate.
Seth Smith was taking a walk near his home in Berkeley during the night of June 15, 2020 when a stranger received a fatal shot. Investigators arrested Tony Lorenzo Walker, a resident of Berkeley, two months later.
The 62-year-old defendant made a guilty plea deal last month with Alameda County prosecutors, which led him to testify that he was not charged with manslaughter in exchange for avoiding a jury trial.
During his May 23 conviction, Walker expressed remorse for his offense, but did not explain why he targeted Smith. Alameda County Prosecutor’s Office staff told the citizen that Walker explained that he felt isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic and believed that Smith looked like a good person.
The Berkeleyside news release reported that Walker said he was not a violent person and that he attacked Smith after he left his home to clear his head. The victim was near Walker’s home on Dwight Way when he assaulted him.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Walker said of his offense, according to Berkeleyside. “He didn’t do anything to me. I didn’t deserve it.”
Walker’s statement did not provoke a sense of closeness to Smith’s mother, Michelle Rode-Smith.
“It didn’t cure anything,” he told Citizen on May 27.
Rode-Smith noted that the defendant was angry about events such as the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“We were all going through a lot of things, but I don’t kill strangers,” he said.
Rode-Smith teaches at Carroll Elementary School in Elk Grove and is involved with Moms Demand Action, a group that seeks to protect people from armed violence.
Walker was previously convicted of theft in 1992, assault with a deadly weapon in 2001 and possession of a firearm in 2016, according to the August 2020 criminal complaint filed against him. When the defendant was arrested for killing Smith, he was on parole for his 2016 firearms offense.
Authorities arrested Walker in August 2020 after he reportedly confessed to the crime to a friend and showed him the model of the weapon he used to shoot Smith. Berkeley police earlier that summer announced a $ 50,000 reward for information that led to the killer’s arrest and conviction.
Prior to his death, Smith was studying business and history, and was about to begin his senior year at UC Berkeley. Rode-Smith told Citizen in 2020 that his son planned to pursue graduate studies at the London School of Economics.
Smith grew up in Clarksburg, and had a reputation for being a leader and mentor when he attended Elizabeth Pinkerton Middle School and Cosumnes Oaks High. The classmates celebrated “Seth’s Day” and wore T-shirts that showed his face when he was in Pinkerton.
Smith became an animator at a young age; her mother remembered that she was 5 years old when she joined a wedding band to sing Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” with them.
His love of acting continued during high school when he was active in his theater program. His theater teacher Christian Chun-Molsen told Citizen in 2020 that Smith often finds a way to make people laugh. Smith was also a motivator who spoke to his peers through his nerves, he recalled.
“He was someone who was truly loved on campus and his family has been a staple of the Elk Grove community for years,” he said in June 2020.
His former teachers and classmates created a Facebook tribute to Smith shortly after his death was reported.
Elk Grove Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen raised the May 25 meeting of Elk Grove City Council in memory of Smith and the victims of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
She described Smith as a beloved student at Cosumnes Oaks High, especially in her visual and performing arts program.
“As long as it hasn’t been forgotten,” Singh-Allen said.
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