‘May God have mercy on your soul.’ Survivor, victims’ families speak out in final hearing for 2019 triple homicide

May 24, 2024 | 12:17 am

Updated May 24, 2024 | 10:19 am

Photo by Josh Kelly

“There’s a lot of things I want to say, but first, why did you think that anybody can take a life? [You took] three, and almost mine. I just don’t understand; you should have never shot anybody over a drug. Nothing is worth taking the life of innocent people.” Carmen Vanegas was the lone survivor in the 2019 triple homicide that resulted in the death of her son and two other men. She, along with members of the other victim’s families, spoke directly during Thursday’s final hearing to Arnett Baines, who pleaded guilty to the crimes earlier this month.

Vanegas was shot in the head but survived the attack inside a home on Audubon Avenue in 2019. Three victims were fatally shot: her son Christopher Carie, 18; Robert D. Smith Jr., 35; and Jay Michael Sowders, 43.

Vanegas was one of five people to speak during Thursday’s hearing.

About Baines’ sentencing

Baines accepted a plea deal on May 8. During his final hearing, he was officially sentenced to the following:

  • Count 1: Murder – Imprisonment for life with the chance of probation and parole after 25 years
  • Count 2: Murder – Imprisonment for life with the chance of probation and parole after 25 years
  • Count 3: Murder – Imprisonment for life with the chance of probation and parole after 25 years
  • Count 4: Assault, 1st Degree – 20 years
  • Count 5: Tampering with Physical Evidence – 5 years
  • Count 6: Tampering with Physical Evidence – 5 years
  • Count 7: Torture of a Dog or Cat Resulting in Death – 5 years
  • Count 8: Possession of a Handgun as a Felon – 10 years

All will be served concurrently, meaning at the same time.

Carmen Vanegas

Vanegas said not only was she seriously injured by the shooting, but she lost all of her family on January 17, 2019.

“Not only did you take my firstborn, but when I was in the hospital, you took my whole family from me in one day. I hope that your kids don’t become anything like you,” she said to Baines.

She began to call Baines evil and heartless for the acts he committed. She said that the sentencing he received was not tough enough considering what he did. Vanegas said she can recount every event that happened that day and relives it again when she sleeps at night. Vanegas wishes him the same fate for the rest of his life.

“You don’t deserve to walk outside of those bars. Because you will never be nothing but evil. And I hope you relive it every day, for every life you took and for every family you hurt,” she said. 

Vanegas finished here statement by saying: “You are nothing but a dog and an animal all inside. You have no heart, no remorse, no nothing. You can smile all day long, but everyone knows you have no remorse. It doesn’t bother you what you’ve done.”

Anna Sowders

As Jay Sowders’ only sibling, Anna opted not to share how deeply his death affected her while in Baines’ presence.

“There’s evil in this courtroom today. Evil thrives and delights in people’s hurt and misery. I’m not going to give this evil the satisfaction of hearing about what all I’ve gone through these last 5+ years. What I will say is that I do not agree with the sentence you received,” she said.

Robert D. Smith, Sr

Smith said that on January 17, 2019, he received the call that no parent should receive. He was told that his son Robert D. Smith, Jr. had died and would never see his grandkids, unlike how Baines still has that chance.

“I believe that you’re a coward,” Smith said.

However, Smith said he does not hate Baines for what he did, for hating Baines would prevent him from moving forward after his son’s death, which he vows to do.

“May God have mercy on your soul because you took it upon yourself to take a life. Not one, not two, but three. With that being said, I just want you to know every time you close your eyes, I want you to witness what you’ve done. Take accountability for what you’ve done,” Smith said.

To Baines’ family, Smith wished “all the love and confidence of the good Lord” for now having to live without him directly in their lives.

Teresa Smith

Teresa Smith, Robert’s mother, said she wondered if she should hate Baines for taking her only son or if she should wish for pain and the tears she cried. Instead, she said she forgives Baines and leaves his punishment to God.

“Today, I turn you over to my Savior — the one true God Jesus Christ — allowing him to handle your suffering. The Lord says, ‘Vengence is mine. I will repay.’ His rage is so much greater than I could ever wish on you,” Teresa said.

By forgiving him, Smith said she gives up the power Baines had to make her feel anger and fear, and instead she can have emotional freedom.

She said that Robert’s 4 children will now learn the lesson of how to move forward when treated wrongfully.

Smith said that she will continue to fight for Baines to remain in prison so that he has to miss events in his child’s life — as Robert will.

“In that moment, I know you’ll wish you could take back what you’ve done. My advice to you is to seek forgiveness from God, from the family of those you have hurt, and maybe finally have mercy on yourself,” she said.

Kayla Kiper

Kayla Kiper and Robert Smith had a daughter who was only a few months old when Smith was killed. Kiper said their daughter would never know her father, so she will continue to advocate that Baines remain in prison for taking three lives that day.

“I hope you get everything that you (deserve). I hope you never get to lay eyes on your kids or your friends like Robbie can’t. You never get to see your kids, just like he can’t see his. And I hope you can look at my daughter [today] and see that she will never lay eyes on her dad again because of you,” Kiper said.

May 24, 2024 | 12:17 am

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