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DENIED: Tulsa mother's sentence upheld in daughter's death

Posted at 5:47 PM, Jun 03, 2024

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board denied a commutation for Raye Dawn Smith.

A jury convicted Smith of enabling child abuse in a high-profile case in 2007. Kelsey Briggs, 2, died in 2005.

Smith’s then husband, Michael Porter, was originally charged with murder and sexual assault. He took a plea deal in exchange for his testimony against Smith and received 30 years for enabling child abuse.

Smith was not home at the time of the murder. Smith was sentenced to 27 years.

17 years later, Smith wanted the board to agree she and Porter sharing nearly the same sentence is unjust. She testified before the board on June 4th and admitted she was naïve and too trusting, but was convinced Porter, was a good guy.

“I may have been wrong about Mike Porter but I did not willfully and maliciously allow anyone to harm her nor did I hurt her in any capacity,” said Smith.

Kelsey's father, Lance Briggs, served in the military and was away when his daughter died. He and his father, Royce Briggs, spoke at the board meeting on June 3rd.

“I understand that Ms. Smith is a model prisoner but she was not a model mother,” said Lance. “Kelsey got a life sentence. Raye Dawn Smith’s sentence is not excessive.”

“She will have a chance for parole after serving 85% of her sentence; that’s what was handed down by a judge and jury, and that’s the way it should be,” said Royce.

WATCH: Commutation hearing for Raye Dawn Smith:

Commutation hearings begin for Kelsey Briggs’ Mother

The board repeatedly questioned how Smith didn’t know about the abuse. 

“She did know of the abuse, she did not know it was Porter,” Morgan Hale, Smith’s attorney, told the board. 

“Kelsey was in between homes every two to four days and multiple people had access to her,” said Smith. “I just didn’t know who the perpetrator was.”

Ten months before Kelsey’s death, the Department of Human Services started investigating signs of abuse, including bruises and broken legs. Ultimately, a judge ruled to keep Kelsey with her mother.

“There is no way Raye Dawn couldn’t have known what was going on,” said Royce to the board.

However, Smith’s advocates, like former Representative Kris Steele, believe this is a story of disparity.

“Raye wasn’t even home when the murder of her child occurred,” said Steele. “She was charged with a crime based on a plea agreement by the individual who actually murdered her daughter and that is not justice.”

In 2006, Steele co-authored Kelsey’s Law, designed to strengthen protections for child abuse victims. He worked alongside the Briggs family to help put that law into place.

While fighting for Smith’s release may appear ironic, Steele disagrees, and said injustice comes in many forms.

“When it comes to excessive sentences and wrongful conviction, it’s equally important to stand up to those injustices.”

Advocates spoke in Smith’s defense citing previous domestic violence trauma, excessive sentencing and disparity. 93% of Oklahomans convicted of enabling abuse are women.

In the end, the board denied Smith’s commutation by a vote of 3-2.

Smith can apply for commutation again in three years. She can also apply again if there has been a statutory change for the crime or if the governor recommends it.

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