BELTON - A Waco woman who shot and killed two men last year in a Harker Heights nightclub learned her fate on Monday, when a Bell County judge sentenced her on two murder charges.
After hearing 15 people testify during two hearings, Judge John Gauntt of the 27th Judicial District Court sentenced Olishea Lashawn Smith, 30, to 35 years in prison for the murders of Dexter Lamont Prather, 42, of Waco, and Damion Hopkins, 27, of Colorado Springs, Colo.. Hopkins grew up in Temple and has family there.
Her two, 35-year sentences will run concurrently.
Smith also will have to pay at least $4,000 in restitution to the Texas Attorney General’s crime victim’s fund.
Smith pleaded guilty in June to shooting and killing Prather and Hopkins on March 4, 2017.
“I’m satisfied that justice was done,” said Bell County Assistant Attorney General Mike Waldman. “She’s being held responsible. But there are no winners here. There are different types of loss.”
Smith will be eligible for parole in 17 years.
“It’s not enough,” said Dannique Trejo, Hopkins’s cousin. “We’re not happy with the sentencing.”
During a meeting with Hopkins and Prather family members after the sentencing, Waldman encouraged them to write letters to the parole board.
As Gauntt read the sentence, crying and yelling erupted. Several family members overcome with emotion had to be escorted out of the courtroom. Around 90 people filled the 146th District Court, where they hearing had been moved and is a larger venue than the 27th Judicial District Court.
Four people, including Prather’s young daughter, spoke to Smith directly during allocution after the sentencing.
“I lay in bed and cry,” she said. “You destroyed my life. I hope you never get out of jail because you killed my daddy.”
Hopkins’s wife, Darwiniqua Hopkins, told Smith she is praying for her.
“I do not hate you; I pray for grace and mercy,” she said. “Reflect on what you have done and lost, and appreciate what you have left. I’m praying for your children.”
Ten people, nine called by the state, spoke during the first sentencing hearing on Nov. 8. On Monday, the defense had its turn, calling five people to speak on Smith’s behalf. Smith testified during the first hearing.
Two cousins and three friends spoke about Smith on the stand Monday, all emphasizing that she had a license to carry a handgun and the emotional turmoil of Smith’s children.
“She was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Jennifer Robinson, Smith’s cousin. “She’s not a bad person; she’s always been loving and considerate to all of us.”
A friend who grew up with Smith said she was a volunteer for her nonprofit organization helping children with school supplies and clothes.
“She was always outgoing, working at Waco High School as a behavioral specialist,” said LeStar Stoglin, a nurse. “She’s always tried to defuse situations.”
Stoglin said she could not believe what had happened.
“It shocked me because she’s not that type of person,” she said.
She said she’s noticed the effects on Smith’s children.
“I’ve noticed them shutting down, not wanting to play and not really being themselves,” Stoglin said.
Smith’s cousin said her children are missing their mother.
“It’s a bad situation all around for all three families involved,” said Edward Smith. “We wouldn’t be here today if people had gone a different direction.”
March 4, 2017
“It was a normal night, busier than usual because of a concert (at another club),” said Frederick Henderson, Club Empire co-owner, during his testimony on Nov 8. “Everyone was dancing, and some people were shooting dice on one of the pool tables.” He said gambling, illegal in Texas, usually happened in a back room but on occasion was brought to the front of the club.
He said a man wearing a maroon shirt and a woman in a gold dress came in and the man got involved in a dice game. Henderson later learned the man was Prather.
“He put a crooked (or weighted) dice in the game, which is something I watch for,” Henderson said. He asked Hopkins, a regular customer, to watch the man while he got more management personnel to confront Prather.
“He tried to put the crooks back in the game and (Hopkins) jumped off the couch and onto the pool table (to stop the game); he was upset,” Henderson said. Words were exchanged followed by punches thrown by both men.
He said Smith opened fire from about 10 feet away.
A club employee saw the fight happen from behind the bar.
“People in the club were heading over to stop the fight, and she just started shooting,” said Marque Ross. “When I looked up two people were laying on the floor.”
No weapons were found on either man.
When Harker Heights Police Department detectives arrived on scene, “the club was in disarray and Prather was lying on the ground between the pool tables,” said Detective Jack Chapman during his testimony on Nov. 8.
Friends had rushed Hopkins to Seton Medical Center, where he died.
Chapman said that, based on video evidence, Smith fired her revolver five times. Hopkins was shot four times and Prather was shot twice.
The entire incident last less than one minute, from when Hopkins confronted Prather to when Smith fled the scene, Chapman said.
She eventually making her way to Waco and a few days later turned herself in to Heights police and handed over the weapon she had used.
“She was cooperative with the investigation,” Chapman said when asked by Smith’s defense attorney, David Hudson of Waco.
Waldman attempted to establish that no other weapons besides Smith’s had been drawn in response to the fist-fight between Prather and Hopkins, that Smith was never in any danger, and that staff members were attempting to break up the altercation.
Hudson argued that there was a lack of security at the club, and that more people than just Prather and Hopkins were fighting.
“No one can be defined by just one night,” Hudson said on Monday. Hudson added several crimes had taken place before Smith opened fire, illegal gambling and assault.
“The situation was not handled properly,” he said.
Four staff members were on hand that night. None were trained security but were required to break up fights when they occurred, said Frederick Henderson, Club Empire co-owner, during testimony on Nov. 8. A staff member could be seen on the surveillance video patting down male patrons after they entered the club, but not female patrons. Smith was not asked to open her red purse where her handgun was concealed.
Chapman said during his testimony that there was one other weapon on scene that night, but it was never displayed. A staff member had retrieved a handgun out of the office and headed toward the altercation.
Hudson emphasized that employees were not readily identified as staff with nametags or T-shirts.
Smith expressed remorse during her testimony on Nov. 8.
“I’m hurt. I just can’t stomach (Prather) being gone, especially when I was just trying to help him,” she said. “I pleaded guilty because I’m taking full responsibility for what happened. I never meant to take a life. They both had children.”
She said she had been in a relationship with Prather for four years. “I didn’t want to go out that night, but he wanted to go to a concert for his birthday.”
After the concert, Smith and Prather headed to Club Empire, where they had never been before.
“Dexter loves to gamble so he went over there (to the pool table),” Smith said. She watched for a while and then went to the restroom, where she said she was accosted by a group of women and later was threatened by the employee with the gun.
Smith also insisted during her testimony that Prather was fighting with more than one person.
“No one was trying to break up the fight; it seemed like the whole club was against Dexter,” she said. “When the guy with the gun approached the fight, I fired. I wasn’t firing at anyone.”
Waldman repeatedly emphasized that Smith never called 911 and that she was “100 percent, five shots fired and hit,” even though she claimed to not be firing at anyone.
During testimony on Monday, Waldman re-called Chapman to testify after he had reviewing case evidence, and Chapman pointed out five inconsistencies between Smith’s testimony and evidence, including the threats from others.
“Her story was different every time,” Waldman said during his closing argument.
During a recorded conversation with one of Prather’s friends, Smith said she was “shooting at the white shirts.” Prather was wearing maroon.
Darwiniqua Hopkins said she started dating her future husband while teenagers at Temple High School. They married in 2012. Damion Hopkins has three children.
“He loved his family and he was a wonderful husband,” she said. “He was always there for me. He was my wise counsel.”
Hopkins said her husband was a giving person, at times going past her “comfort zone.”
“He brought home a homeless guy and his daughter to live with us until they got on their feet,” she said. “He said, ‘They just need help.’”
In March of last year, he had returned to Temple to spend time with family, leaving her at home in Colorado.
Then her sister called.
“I lay down on the floor and prayed, I just cried,” Hopkins said. “I’m waiting for it to get easier, and I take peace that he’s in heaven. But my son asks why he can’t have a dad. It’s difficult.”
Hopkins had a close family, with two siblings giving victim impact statements on Nov. 8.
“He was that type of dude who was real calm, relaxed and could make anyone laugh,” said Markeeis Hopkins.
Hopkins said he was in disbelief when he was told about his brother’s death.
“This can’t be real; nothing like this has ever happened to our family,” he said. “This is unbearable. A simple fight should never have turned deadly.”
He said Sunday football get-togethers and dinners will never be the same, but he is trying to be a positive force for his nephew.
“Let his name live on, with a real legacy behind it,” Hopkins said.
Prather and his wife, Tasha Bray, had been together for 12 years.
“He was a good father. Everything was good about him,” Bray said.
She said she knew something bad had happened.
“Chills came over my body and I knew he was gone, I could feel it,” Bray said. “I fell to my knees and prayed about how to tell our daughter her daddy is gone.”
Prather owned a small trucking company in Waco, said his cousin, Kim Terrell, during testimony on Nov. 8.
“He was one-of-a-kind,” she said. “He was joyful, playful and full of life. He loved his daughter to death.”
Terrell was in denial when she got the news.
“I thought, ‘This couldn’t have happened...He was a good guy,’” she said. “I miss having him here.”