A Buffalo man who repeatedly harassed and abused his girlfriend before she left him, and who then broke into her apartment and killed her new boyfriend, faces a possible 50-year prison sentence after being convicted of the fatal stabbing and other crimes.
A State Supreme Court jury found Hillard Smith, 46, of Buffalo, guilty of first-degree manslaughter, burglary, assault, two counts of menacing, two counts of criminal possession of a weapon and two counts of criminal contempt in connection with crimes that occurred between January and April 12, 2017.
Smith originally was charged with first degree murder for breaking into the woman's apartment on North Division Street on April 12, and attacking Justin Johnson, 42. The unarmed Johnson suffered multiple stab wounds and died five days later of his injuries.
At the close of the six-day trial, Assistant District Attorney John P. Feroleto described the attack as the culmination of "an unstable, dysfunctional relationship," and in his closing statement to the jurors he reminded them that a "mountain of evidence" showed that Smith had nothing but bad intentions when he went to the woman's apartment.
"This isn't about some petty disagreement, it's not two guys fighting about a girl," Feroleto said. He referenced testimony of the repeated beatings and harassment of the girlfriend by Smith, and the order of protection intended to keep him away.
Phone records and text messages also figured in the case, including when Smith confessed via cell phone "I just stabbed Nikki's boyfriend 15 times. It's over."
Although the maximum sentence for the manslaughter conviction is 25 years, because the other crimes for which Smith is convicted were committed separately, Justice M. William Boller could order that the sentences run consecutive to the manslaughter term, meaning Smith could receive up to 50 years in prison.
The judge set sentencing for Feb. 23.