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Patrice Smith freed after serving 21 years in prison for murder

She was resentenced Thursday to 12 years under the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act. That law lowers punishments for domestic violence victims.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A Buffalo woman who spent 21 years in prison for a murder she committed at 16 years old is finally out of prison because of a new law.

Patrice Smith was sentenced to 25 years to life behind bars for strangling and suffocating The Rev. Robert Robinson, Sr. in 1998.

She was resentenced Thursday to 12 years under the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act. This bill was signed into law in 2019 by Governor Andrew Cuomo to, " mitigate harsh punishments imposed upon eligible defendants whose crimes can be directly linked to a history of domestic violence." 

Smith claimed Robinson repeated sexually abused her starting when she was 15 years old, which led to the new sentencing.

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn doesn't agree with the decision, citing a "lack of evidence."

"Sometimes in domestic violence cases, the only evidence we have is from the victim and I do believe victims," Flynn said. "I don't need corroboration in every case.

"In a case like this, though, if you're asking me to consent to someone getting out of jail early, when you have lied repeatedly about what happened and lied repeatedly about your relationship with the victim, that's not enough."

Ali Harrington is the Director at the Criminal Justice Advocacy Clinic at the University at Buffalo and tells on case like these often. Harrington says this new law is a big step in reforming the judicial system.

"Every single time that a judge makes this kind of decision and says, 'You know what? Maybe justice in this case requires me to look back at what happened and to re-evaluate that sentence,' it makes a difference, and these really can add up," Harrington said.

The court's decision made it very clear that while Smith is now a free woman, she is still guilty of robbery and murder.

All that has changed is, "the court's understanding of all the circumstances that impacted the decision the defendant made on the night of the murder."

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