The man showed no remorse, blaming the girl and her mother in court, Taylor said. He was sent to prison for decades.
Smith takes satisfaction in long and deserved prison terms. But another measure of success does not come in numbers.
“The best feeling for me always is to turn around and look at a victim at sentencing and see what ultimately is a look of relief on their face,” she said. “The victim knows that somebody listened to me, and somebody believed me, and what happened to me was wrong.”
The children she has helped stick with her.
There are the two boys who endured torture on top of molestation. Their mother’s boyfriend made them hold their arms out to their sides as he forced them to perform sex acts.
The man was caught molesting the mother’s young sister. After an aunt whisked the boys away from that home, they revealed that they had told their mother that her boyfriend was abusing them, too, but that she had done nothing to stop it.
Smith and Cates teamed up to put the man in prison for 20 years.
“Then I prosecuted the mother. And I was happy about that,” Smith said.
The mother lost her parental rights, and the boys are being raised out of state. Once they were in a safe place, one of the boys, who had been diagnosed as learning disabled and as having hearing impairments after the trauma, was found to have neither, Smith said.
Smith has also reached beyond the courtroom.
One evening early in her tenure in handling abuse cases, she stopped by the Nordstrom store at Montgomery Mall. As she stood at the cosmetics counter, she saw a filthy boy or girl — she couldn’t tell which — with hair that looked like it had been yanked out. Clothes hung off the child’s body.
“The mom was standing at the MAC counter, with her makeup done, her hair done, her nails done, her designer jeans on, and just snapping at the little kid,” Smith said.
Disgusted, she called the unit’s chief, Laura Chase, and asked what she could do. Chase’s answer shocked her: Maryland had no law criminalizing child neglect.
“I thought, ‘Yeah, we got to do something about that,’ ” Smith said.
That was more than a decade ago. In October, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) announced that Maryland had shed that “dubious distinction,” after the General Assembly made child neglect a misdemeanor, punishable by up to five years in prison.
Smith, who worked closely with Brown, legislators and other advocates to help get the bill passed after earlier attempts failed, credited O’Malley with making it a priority and Del. Galen R. Clagett (D-Frederick) with pursuing it for years.
Chase said Smith had jumped in to do groundwork and organizing. “She really rolled her sleeves up and got it done,” Chase said.
Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said Smith also played a key role in helping the O’Malley administration push lawmakers, including skeptical members of the Legislative Black Caucus, to support a bill allowing authorities to collect DNA from suspects charged with — but not yet convicted of — violent crimes and burglaries. The law, widely supported by prosecutors and police, is being challenged.
“She’s a very trusted voice,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy also pointed to Smith’s work with Montgomery’s Family Justice Center, a resource that helps abuse victims navigate the legal system, and her talks with high school students about dating violence.
In many ways, Smith remains idealistic, believing that the abuse she sees among adults can be slowed by talking to young people now. “Nobody ever sits down with kids and says — truly says to them — this is your body. This is okay behavior, this is not okay behavior,” she said.
Still, the horrors she’s seen have made Smith “hyper vigilant” about who can spend time with her children. She and her husband, D.C. lawyer David Cohen, question the kids and talk about what’s appropriate.
“If I’m a little overprotective, so be it. I just think, if something happens, that’s a hard bell to un-ring,” Smith said. “It’s kind of the price of seeing the bad side of things, seeing what human beings can be capable of.”