Life Behind Bars, Death on the Streets: The Story of Marcus “Ray Ray” Sneed

Life Behind Bars, Death on the Streets: The Story of Marcus “Ray Ray” Sneed

By Robert Lilly

 

 

 

Marcus, the handsome, young son of both Mitch Sneed Sr. and La Sonya Smith, both long term natives and residents of Abilene, Texas, was sentenced in March 2011 to a life term in prison for a first degree felony of burglary, with a second count of assault with a deadly weapon. On its surface these charges and their subsequent aftermath of punishment could seem justifiable to the average citizen, but I urge you to withhold your judgment until you hear the entire story. There are more layers to this onion. {{more}}Marcus’s story is quite the norm; I would venture to say, for most of our youth in Abilene, Texas who find themselves born into poverty and to blackparents. These youth grow in households all too often riddled with addiction issues, absentee fathers and more women than men to raise them. Now, there is nothing wrong with women raising men, however, I assert that it is my position that only a man can model for a boy, what it is to be a man. Marcus’s father, Mitch was inconspicuously absent from his son’s life, at perhaps those crucial years where Marcus needed to hear from Mitch, his words of guidance as to what to do and not do, based on his own life’s choices. Mitch has professed great regrets for these absences. When asked why were you absent from his life? Mitch answered, “At that time in 1989 in Abilene, TX. drugs were plentiful and work was short. He was born in that year. I had my boy. But after deciding to leave the streets, I went to work for Kmart, where I worked for 8 years, this job required me to leave Abilene, TX for Dallas, TX. I brought my boy with me. However, the following year I returned for a Fourth of July visit, the family prevailed upon me to leave him here and not wanting to go against the grain of the family and my child’s wishes, I left him.” Marcus was also, for a time without his mother, who has endured quite a tumultuous life, both due to her choices and their outcomes, which included both addiction and incarceration issues. At first read, one may be prompted to dismiss this family as incorrigible and problematic, thus the reason this boy ‘failed’ in life. However, the problem with this idea is that it doesn’t take into consideration that while these two, admittedly important, figures were missing from his life; there was his grandmother, endearingly called Big Lou, whose real name is Ella Smith, who helped to raise him when others could not. She is today and has been a woman of stability, where others have faltered, and the glue that kept the structure of fragile families, like the Smith-Sneed cohort together. As the family matriarch that has not wavered she has had to bare, in recent months the passing of a mother, a sister, the self-inflicted death of a grandnephew, and the life sentencing of Marcus. Another sibling, Marcus’s aunt,Katrina Casey has totaled the number of relatives from this one family to eight, who have gone to prison.She shared that with me on one occasion when we were discussing the possible spiritual implications of all this adversity this one family has faced.Don’t be dismissive; this is not rare in Abilene, TX. Too many people are just silent in their own suffering. Besides, where do you go to talk about this issue? Is it at church? Is it with a counselor? Is it in a social club? There are no official places for black folk to meet and share this topic, despite the fact that so many of us are suffering from the same fate.Marcus was raised, as many black children in America, and in Abilene, Texas have been, by their grandmothers. These grandparents are our unsung heroes. So, it can’t be said, that he didn’t know better, nor is that the intent of this story. Rather the aim of this story is to highlight a modern tragedy. A tragedy, made even more outrageous because of our silence in response to it. This story is a clarion call to action, however, we will never respond appropriately if the prophets do not share the news. It is in that spirit that I feel compelled to write. I believe the people must hear this message and be awakened to the evil that is engulfing us all around. And what exactly is the evil that haunted and hunted Marcus? Herein lies a question that only generates more questions. Mitch believes that Marcus’s drug use stems from the unfortunate events that unfolded one summer day on the Winters FWY that encircles Abilene, TX. Both Marcus and his brother Malcolm were crossing the freeway. Marcus made it across, and beckoned his brother to wait but mistaking his cry to wait, as his cue to run, he was struck by oncoming traffic. His ankle and knee were crushed and permanent damage was sustained as a result of his injuries. Marcus, Mitch says, “has blamed himself for this happening to his brother for years.” These events would alter the course of his brother’s life till this day. Malcolm aspired to football greatness, but could not play in his high school years; despite the fact he had played while in middle school. He was mortified. Mitch adds, “Marcus never got counseling for this incident, yet he was on that highway with him until help came, he was a little boy. He should have been placed in counseling. He never was.”What propels us in one direction as opposed to another? Events, that expose us early in life to such deep pain, how do they affect the course of our lives? These are questions that should be explored, as we know of too many homes where fathers are gone, due to early death or mothers are abused because of domestic violence. Marcus would in later years be characterized as very considerate toward the rest of the family and other people, too. He was known to always smile and play a lot. All the same, he became fond of carrying a pistol. How does a sweet young boy turn into a pistol toting adult? Marcus, who could best answer this question did not get a chance to tell his story in court because, he was convinced to sign a document that essentially prohibited him from giving any testimony or cross-examining any witnesses that provided information against him. The document, we would learn, that he had been given by his attorney, Mr. Bob Lindsey to sign was called a Stipulation of Evidence. Such forms are usually signed when the defendant knows their chances of beating the charges are slim and so a deal is struck that makes the prosecution of the case easier for the D.A. but it is in exchange for some sort of leniency. In the case of Marcus, Judge Lee Hamilton, of the 104th Court sentenced him to life in prison. Everyone was shocked. The shock was not due to the fact that he was found guilty. From my conversations with the immediate family, no one believes Marcus should have gotten away without any consequences. They all universally supported the viewpoint of Katrina, who had written that, “he should be punished, but the punishment should fit the crime.” Marcus is a first time offender. He has never been to prison or TYC ! However, over the past 4 years, or since graduating from high school, he has found himself using drugs, selling drugs, or robbing to get them. In all of the pending cases against Marcus, he has never acted alone, although he is the only one in the group of 4-5 alleged participants to have been sentenced to life in prison, according to Mr. Sneed Sr. The family has widely experienced the consequences of drugs. From addiction, to incarceration, dope peddling siblings, and peers, from an early age most would agree that he saw too much, too early and perhaps these things could be perceived as the corrupting force in his short life. His grandmother worked hard to protect him. But she could not stop everything from entering into his life, whether it was through his own efforts to abandon what she had taught him, or his mother, who dearly loves him and who has cried a river of tears over his sentencing, but who also admits she has not always been the best role model for Marcus. When asked about how her earlier life may have negatively affected Marcus and his other siblings? La Sonya responded, “I was always doing what I wanted to do and not tending to them. I Ms. LaSonya Smith, Marcus Snee’d mother, and extended family members. Photo courtesy of The Sneed Family.knew I had other people who would be there when I wasn’t. I was young, and immature. Marcus saw the household we lived in; I was in a bad place in my youth. I was stressed and my attitude was poor. It was hard for me to go through all of what I was going through and not have that show in my actions. He also, heard my other siblings saying that he was going to be just like me, I am sure that didn’t help him.”Marcus is now languishing in the county jail, he feels, from the reports of his father and mother, that his attorney is betraying him. This should not be shocking to your eyes to read! Ask anybody, who is black and who has experienced the criminal justice system here in Abilene, TX. They, I am sure, will tell you that it is a charade. They might say that justice is not present in the courts and that a black person has a snowball’s chance in hell of gaining a fair trial, if he were to “roll the dice,” as it has come to be described, when one opts for a jury trial. I am told, by Mr. Sneed Sr., that despite the fact that he has already been sentenced to life in prison, he is being asked by his attorney Bob Lindsey, on behalf of the DA, Mr. Eidson, to drop his appeal and to accept a plea offer of 80 years or a 40 year aggravated sentence, which essentially means that if he were to win his appeal against the sentence, since that is all the plea agreement left him an option to do, he would still be in prison for natural life on the remainder of his cases. He is declining to do so, and I don’t blame him. If I were he and they had already given me a life term in prison, I would make them spend every dollar they had to spend in order to convict me on any other charges. This system is corrupt! And this is the sort of stuff that goes down everyday right under our noses and we do nothing about it. Wake up!According to the documents that have been provided me, through the family, and these are public record documents. This young man is under indictment for several other felonies, one being the infamous robbery of an elderly white man. He is alleged to have participated in concert with at least four other people, all of whom have been sentenced, none of them to life. The peculiar occurrence after his life sentence was handed down was that the Abilene Reporter News reported that he in fact had been sentenced for this one charge, but that was a fallacy. He hasn’t as yet, been brought to trial for that offense. The implications of this false story, as both myself and the father saw it were that when people read that he had been sentenced for the robbery of an ‘elderly white man’, someone’s grandfather, and a widower, that public scorn would fall upon Marcus and no one would care about the facts of his true ordeal, both before the legal issues or as a course of the offenses he was faced with and are standing judgment for. We concluded that most people would accept the line that this was another ‘bad criminal’ that deserved whatever he got.Proof that supports this position was the response section online of the Abilene Reporter News; it was, directly after the story broke, riddled with racist, and vitriolic commentary about Marcus and the supposed nature of his actions. These are the words expressed in a town that prides itself on being a haven for Christianity and godliness. Again, Marcus is no saint but we assert that if America is going to purport to be the bastion of Democracy then this should be evident first in her courts and in the process by which, we, the citizenry evaluate the issues and merits of crime and punishment. But it is not the case for black people that fairness is the order of things. We are presumed guilty as charged and seldom are the merits or mitigating factors ever brought into the light of day.In order for that to happen we would have to have money to pay one of these fancy attorney’s, and even then I am lead to believe, that fancy attorney would have to be more greedy and motivated by wealth, than racist and motivated by hatred. At times I wonder if I don’t speak up, who will? If I remain silent Marcus may just be another number in the penitentiary. And by my speaking out perhaps we can be lead to ask the questions that any civilized people should ask when something goes awry in our society, “What is wrong with this picture.” What happened to turn this beautiful and wonderful person into a statistic? Is there hope for him, even now? Or are we so callous as to just murmur tsk, tsk, and then wash our hands of it and exclaim, “Well, it’s not myproblem.”When does it become your problem? When it affects your household? Maybe by then it will be too late, because who will be left to help you? I see this as our problem. One that we must search out our hearts to find the conviction to address before it happens again, to your child, perhaps; God forbid. We need each other, and Marcus “Ray Ray” Sneed needs us to do for us what he wasn’t able to do for himself, change. Admittedly, we cannot change him, but do you think a life sentence gives him the opportunity to change and become a better man? He leaves behind 3 daughters, 2, 3, and 6 years respectively, and a family that will be forever affected by this affair. And we as a community are no more prepared, as result of this to support families in such need, than before this happened. We have a lot to atone for.One of Marcus’s daughters. Photo courtesy of The Sneed Family.