Man charged in Wynter Cole-Smith's murder could face death penalty

Michigan has not executed a prisoner since 1938
Posted at 5:35 PM, Jul 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-10 18:21:55-04

(WXYZ) — The man accused of killing 2-year-old Wynter Cole-Smith faces the prospect of being the first person executed in Michigan since 1938.

Rashad Trice was charged on July 7 with kidnapping a minor and kidnapping resulting in death.

Even though the death penalty is outlawed at the state level in Michigan, it can be brought federally. Not since 1938 has a defendant been executed in the state.

Mark Totten, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, has not indicated whether his office will seek the death penalty.

“Historically, the people of Michigan know how they feel about the death penalty, and they don’t like it,” said Matthew Schneider, a former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.

While in office, Schneider had to recommend whether to pursue the death penalty in a handful of cases, but the ultimate decision rested not with him but the Attorney General.

“It takes an inordinate amount of resources for the government to bring this type of case, and it’s an incredible expense as well for the defense attorneys,” he said.

Death penalty cases are extremely complicated, Schneider said, with defense attorneys having the chance to argue mitigating factors.

That could include Trice’s mental health, his upbringing or any challenges from his childhood. But prosecutors will have the chance to argue aggravating factors, such as a heinousness of the crime.

“For example, this was just an innocent little girl who had nothing to do with this and was murdered heinously,” he said.

During his time as U.S. Attorney, Schenider said he had “more than a few instances” where he was tasked with considering whether to pursue the death penalty. He said he never recommended capital punishment, but was nearly overruled once.

“I recommended to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to not seek the death penalty,” he recalled. “Attorney General Sessions wrote me a short letter back saying: you are directed to seek the death penalty”

But when Sessions was fired in 2018 by them-President Donald Trump, a new Attorney General took over in DC.

“In that situation, I re-appealed to Attorney General Barr and he agreed with me," Schneider said, "and we ended up not seeking the death penalty."