Lawrence dad who left gun in reach of toddlers convicted in daughter’s death

photo by: Douglas County Sheriff's Office

Chance M. Smith

Chance M. Smith left a loaded semi-automatic handgun — which prosecutors say had no safety switch — in reach of toddlers, and as a result his young daughter was killed.

Smith, 33, of Lawrence, entered a plea to related criminal charges and was convicted on Friday by Douglas County District Court Judge Paula Martin.

Smith pleaded no contest to two counts of aggravated child endangerment, both felonies, for recklessly causing or permitting two toddlers to be in a situation where their lives were endangered. As part of his plea deal, the district attorney’s office agreed to dismiss a more severe charge initially filed against Smith: involuntary manslaughter.

The judge scheduled Smith’s sentencing for Nov. 7.

He’s expected to be placed on probation, with orders to complete parenting classes and not possess any guns, defense attorney Adam Hall said, citing the plea agreement with prosecutors. Smith has little to no criminal history, Hall said.

Smith’s 1-year-old daughter, Autumn Grace Smith, was hit by a bullet and died about 10:30 a.m. Sept. 22, 2017, at the family’s home in the 600 block of North Michigan Street. It was a week before her second birthday.

photo by: Journal-World file photo

Autumn Grace Smith

That morning, Smith was watching Autumn and a 2-year-old relative and left the children in the living room while he went outside to let the dogs out and smoke a cigarette, prosecutor Eve Kemple said. If the case had gone to trial, Kemple said the state’s evidence would show that:

When police arrived at the home they found Smith crying on the front porch and the 2-year-old boy crying frantically inside.

Autumn’s body, with an apparent single gunshot wound, was upstairs in Smith’s bedroom. Also in the bedroom was a Glock 9mm handgun.

“It’s important to note that is a type of firearm that does not have a safety,” Kemple said.

Kemple said there was a baby gate leaning against the wall next to the stairs.

“The baby gate … was not preventing the children from going upstairs and accessing that firearm,” Kemple said.

Smith told police that he was outside for five or 10 minutes and never heard a gunshot. When he came back in, he found the little boy downstairs, crying, and Autumn upstairs, shot. Testing revealed gunpowder on the boy’s hands.

Smith told police that he usually put the gun up on a shelf in his closet when he was at home but that, for no particular reason, the night before he’d placed it under the mattress of his adjustable bed. After Autumn was shot, police found the mattress in a raised position.

According to an affidavit prepared by Lawrence police, previously reported by the Journal-World, Smith told police he also kept an unloaded shotgun in his closet, another handgun unloaded in his medicine cabinet and additional guns locked in a safe in the basement.

Smith was arrested on the charges and made his first appearance in court in June.

Smith did not speak during Friday’s plea hearing, other than giving yes and no answers to the judge. He remains free on $10,000 bond pending his sentencing.

Contact Journal-World public safety reporter Sara Shepherd


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