Michigan doesn’t have the death penalty. But that might not matter for the man accused of killing 2-year-old Wynter Cole-Smith

Rashad Trice, left, and Wynter Cole-Smith
Photo credit Ingham County Sheriff's Office and Lansing Police Department

(WWJ) – On Tuesday Rashad Trice, the man accused of kidnapping 2-year-old Wynter Cole-Smith from her mother’s home in Lansing earlier this month, was ordered to face a federal grand jury, who will determine whether there’s enough evidence to go to trial.

Appearing in federal court in Grand Rapids, Trice was bound over for a grand jury hearing on federal charges of kidnapping a minor and kidnapping resulting in death in connection with the toddler’s death after she was found dead in Detroit last week.

While Michigan abolished the death penalty more than 150 years ago, certain circumstances surrounding this case could put the death penalty into play. On a new Daily J podcast WWJ’s Zach Clark hears from WWJ Legal Analyst Charlie Langton on exactly why that’s possible.

According to Langton, any time a minor is kidnapped by someone who is not their parent or guardian and they don’t report it within 24 hours, that gives the feds jurisdiction.

“I think it could be argued that normally you’d have to have federal jurisdiction, meaning you crossed state lines or the kidnapping occurred on an airplane or something for which there’s clearly federal jurisdiction,” Langton said. “This case is not. She was kidnapped in Lansing and basically taken to Detroit, so there’s an issue there.”

However, despite being arrested within 24 hours, Trice failed to tell authorities where Wynter was.

“And I think that that probably will trigger federal jurisdiction,” Langton said.

If convicted, there’s a possibility Trice could face the death penalty. Langton explains that even though Michigan was one of the first states to outlaw capital punishment in 1846 and no one has ever been executed on state charges since joining the Union, it wouldn’t be the first time someone was executed in the state.

In 1938 Tony Chebatoris, a Russian-born bank robber, was executed after robbing a bank and committing murder. But since then, there have been no executions in Michigan.

As for Trice’s case, Langton says “a lot of strategy comes into play.”

“If you’re being charged with the death penalty, the likelihood that you want to take a plea to a non-death sentence, life in prison, perhaps, would be very high on my list if I’m the defense attorney,” he said. “So just having the death penalty, I would think most people would argue it does give the U.S. attorney a leg up in the negotiations.”

Want more of The Daily J? Just text WWJ to 20357 to get the podcast delivered to your phone or tablet for free, every Monday-Friday. And be sure to subscribe. Msg and data rates apply.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Ingham County Sheriff's Office and Lansing Police Department