'I see someone who has thrown his life away': Keansburg man gets 40 years for murder
In a courtroom packed with family and friends, a judge imposed the prison term on John Curtin for the felony murder of Evan Smutz. Asbury Park Press
FREEHOLD - A judge on Friday sentenced a 20-year-old Keansburg man to 40 years in prison, telling him he threw his life away by fatally shooting a 20-year-old Keyport man over a small amount of marijuana.
In a courtroom packed with family and friends of both the defendant and the victim, Superior Court Judge Marc C.LeMieux imposed the prison term on John Curtin for the felony murder of Evan Smutz.
LeMieux ordered Curtin to serve 34 years in prison without the possibility of release on parole, under the state’s No Early Release Act.
The judge called it “unconscionable’’ that Curtin fatally shot Smutz over a small amount of marijuana. He said Curtin has shown no remorse.
"The defendant is more upset with the fact that he was found guilty of felony murder and robbery, which he doesn't deny, than he is about killing another human being,'' LeMieux said.
“I see someone who has thrown his life away," LeMieux said.
Curtin was found guilty Oct. 22 of felony murder, aggravated manslaughter, armed robbery and weapons offenses, following a trial before LeMieux at which he claimed he shot Smutz in self-defense during a struggle that ensued when a drug deal went bad.
The shooting occurred Aug. 9, 2018, in Smutz’s apartment, where Curtin said he had gone to buy marijuana from the victim.
Curtin testified that he planned to buy 3 ounces of marijuana from Smutz for $600, but he brought a gun with him because he barely knew Smutz and didn't trust Smutz's girlfriend, who arranged the drug deal.
Curtin testified that the gun went off during a struggle that ensued when he complained that the marijuana he was going to buy was short by some 20 grams.
But Smutz's girlfriend, Anne Marie Palmiotto, who lived with Smutz, testified that Curtin pulled a gun on Smutz to rob him during the drug deal, and then he tackled her. Smutz was shot twice while the three were on the ground wrestling, Palmiotto testified.
Smutz died as a result of gunshot wounds to the abdomen and back, LeMieux noted.
Tara Wilson, assistant Monmouth County prosecutor, read a letter from Palmiotto, who was seated in the back of the courtroom.
"Evan and I had many plans for us and our future, but living without each other simply was not one of them,'' the letter said.
"Evan was taken by a senseless act in our own home,'' it said. "This was supposed to be our safe place. Our safe place turned into my worst nightmare.''
Anna Smutz, the victim's mother, addressed the judge.
"Evan was a kind person,'' she said. "He was affectionate, generous, funny, creative, quirky and very loving. He had a big heart and was very trusting of people.
"We have to deal with the vision of my son lying there, hurt and helpless, knowing that he was probably going to die,'' she said. "We have to live with the fact that we did not get to say goodbye.''
When the judge asked Curtin if he had anything to say, Curtin replied, "No, thanks.''
Michael Luciano, assistant Monmouth County prosecutor, asked the judge to sentence Curtin to 50 years in prison.
"This defendant had successfully committed the armed robbery,'' Luciano said. "He had the money. He had the drugs. he didn't have to kill him. ...The death of Evan Smutz was unnecessary.''
LeMieux said Curtin has been involved in assaultive behavior since he was a child, and his juvenile record includes attacking a school security guard.
"He has not lived a law-abiding life since he was 9 years old,'' the judge said.
In addition to the 40-year prison term for felony murder, LeMieux imposed a 25-year term for aggravated manslaughter and an eight-year term for unlawful possession of a weapon. He ordered those terms to run concurrent to the 40-year term.
Curtin’s attorney, Carlos Diaz-Cobo, said he plans to appeal the verdict and sentence.
Kathleen Hopkins, a reporter in New Jersey since 1985, covers crime, court cases, legal issues, unsolved mysteries and just about every major murder trial to hit Monmouth and Ocean counties. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org; 732-643-4202.