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Back from the dead? Friends of accused Syracuse murderer had spread rumor of his demise, DA says logo 5/18/2022 Douglass Dowty,
Murder suspect Jamal Smith of Syracuse © Murder suspect Jamal Smith of Syracuse

Syracuse, NY — Syracuse authorities had abandoned hope of finding accused killer Jamal I. Smith after receiving information that he was dead, a defense lawyer said Wednesday in court.

Those abandoned efforts should require a murder indictment’s dismissal, even after Smith was found alive and jailed in New York City’s Riker’s Island, lawyer Nicholas DeMartino argued.

“If my client was deceased, where was he? Obviously he wasn’t, but was he in a cemetery? We don’t know,” DeMartino said.

He pointed to a speedy trial law suggesting that authorities had run out of time to catch and prosecute Smith for the June 2020 shooting death of Rae-Kwon Chambers, 21, on East Fayette Street.

But Judge Matthew Doran and Chief Assistant District Attorney Melinda McGunnigle weren’t having it.

That rumor of Smith’s death came from what his friends and associates told police, McGunnigle said. And police never abandoned their search, she added.

Murder cases don’t have the same deadlines as other charges, under law, the judge added.

It’s unclear how much authorities actively looked for Smith after a warrant was signed for his arrest on July 7, 2020. It’s around that time that police started making notes suggesting that Smith might be dead, DeMartino said.

McGunnigle said that information came from people who knew Smith, but those people never said how he died or where his body might be.

Smith was eventually caught in January of this year after being arrested on an illegal weapons charge in Staten Island.

He now faces up to 15 years in prison on the New York City charge, as well as up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted in Chambers’ murder on East Fayette Street.

Smith will be shuttled back and forth between jails as prosecutions continue in both cases.

Staff writer Douglass Dowty can be reached at or (315) 470-6070.

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