Police: Brothers tried to cover tracks in Charleston ‘revenge’ slaying

Paula Todd (center) is comforted by a friend, Latoya Warren, outside the courthouse where a man jailed on a murder charge in the death of Todd’s son, George Bennett, had a bond hearing Sunday morning. (ANDREW KNAPP/STAFF)

Two brothers conspired to get revenge by fatally shooting a man last month at a Charleston housing project before they tried to cover their tracks by dismantling a getaway car, police said Sunday in court documents.

The arrest of one of the brothers came as a surprise to Paula Todd, whose 28-year-old son, George Akeem Bennett, was slain April 18 on Reid Street.

Bryant Michael Smith, 30, had bought dinner from Todd through the cooking business she runs just a week before Bennett’s death. Whatever beef Smith had with her son from a bad drug sale, Todd said they could have ironed it out without violence.

“I don’t care what his situation was,” Todd said Sunday morning after Smith’s bond hearing. “That was something we could have talked about instead of the streets that raised him making the decision for him.”

Smith, of Green Park Avenue in West Ashley, remained in jail without bond Sunday, a day after his arrest on a murder charge. An affidavit named his brother and roommate, 34-year-old Seth Hassan Smith, as a co-conspirator in the crime, but a spokesman for the Charleston Police Department said officers were still looking for him.

The affidavit described a motive for the slaying and provided details about how the brothers’ two cars were captured on video near the shooting scene, but the document did not state whether any witnesses pointed to the duo as Bennett’s killers.

Bennett, a North Charleston resident, and the two suspects in the dispute all have a history of drug arrests. Bryant Smith was on probation for a drug conviction.

“I have his number in my phone,” Todd said of Bryant Smith. “There’s no way he didn’t know (George) was my child. That’s why it hurts so.”

The affidavit laid out the accusations against the men:

It started April 17 with an arranged sale of marijuana in West Ashley, where Bennett either bought the drugs with counterfeit cash or robbed Bryant Smith, the police said. Witnesses later told investigators that Bennett was overhead telling someone in a phone conversation that he had scored some “mid-grade weed” after doing a “lick on the West,” a street slang reference to a robbery in West Ashley.

About 11 a.m. the next day, city surveillance cameras showed Bryant Smith’s Infiniti G35 pass 2-C Reid Street in the Wraggborough Extension housing complex with Seth Smith’s Cadillac DeVille following close behind. The Cadillac’s wheel rims and grill were black, and its windows were darkly tinted.

The Infiniti was last seen around 11:12 a.m. in the East Side community, where Bennett had lived with his mother for 15 years.

At 11:26 a.m., the footage showed the Cadillac entering the Bridgeview Village apartments off Morrison Drive and leaving nine minutes later with two people inside. It turned southward toward Reid Street.

Fifteen minutes later, residents on Reid Street dialed 911 to report gunfire. Officers found Bennett bleeding in a parked car, where they also came across drugs. Bennett had some counterfeit money, too. A friend of his who was holding a 3-year-old boy was wounded but not mortally.

Witnesses later told investigators that just after the gunshots, they saw a slender man climb into a “blacked-out” Cadillac. The witnesses later confirmed that it was the vehicle captured on video. The car sped away northward.

After the shooting, Bryant Smith parked the car at 711 Kent St., according to the affidavit. The paperwork named that address, but it did not list a city. Mount Pleasant has a Kent Street, and North Charleston has a Kent Avenue.

There, he painted the Cadillac’s wheels a new color, removed the license plate and started taking the car apart, the affidavit alleged. He “fraudulently completed” a title transfer, which listed a sale date of April 1, more than two weeks earlier, the document stated.

The buyer was a wrecker service, which took the car to North Charleston. Bryant Smith hoped to have it “completely dismantled, destroying any evidence of the murder,” the affidavit stated.

Detective Richard Burckhardt wrote in the three-page document that the “distinctiveness” of the 2000 Cadillac, which had no emblems indicating its make and model, helped investigators identify it.

The detectives suspected the duo because Seth Smith’s Cadillac and Bryant Smith’s Infiniti, which was found through its license plate number, had been “circling the (Reid Street) area as though they were looking for someone.”

The “overt attempts of disposing the Cadillac” further implicated the brothers, Burckhardt wrote.

Todd was pleased to see one of the men locked up Sunday, but she will fear for her own life until the other is caught, she said. She joined family members and friends in remembering Bennett after the bond hearing.

“He loved kids; he was very playful — a big teddy bear,” one of his friends, Latoya Warren of Charleston, said. “He was definitely a mama’s boy.”

Bennett’s criminal past and the choices that sometimes got him into trouble “didn’t make him a bad person,” his mother added. She had tried to discourage him from that life.

“I told him he shouldn’t go to the streets because people in this world are just dirty,” Todd said. “But he never wanted his mama to worry about him. At some point, it was out of my hands.”

Todd saw her son about 30 minutes before the shooting. He showered at her house, and she thought he was going to eat a meal with her. Todd sells home-cooked food on weekends, she said.

“But when I turned my head to tell him to eat, he was gone,” Todd said of that morning. “When I got a phone call, I thought it would be people ordering food. But it was my daughter telling me he got shot.

“It was heartbreaking.”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.