Four teens face adult charges in kidnapping of woman, 89

Arraignments pending in Superior Court
Margaret Smith thanks God for helping her survive and abduction by teens who kept her in a car trunk for two days. BY MELISSA STEELE
April 13, 2013

Margaret Smith stands 5 feet tall and weighs about 100 pounds. Despite her size, she fought back when two teenage girls grabbed her car keys and overpowered her, taking the keys before pushing her into the trunk of her car, where she would be imprisoned for two days.

Her story is one of survival. Sitting in her tidy ranch home on Slaughter Neck Road where she's lived for more than 40 years, Smith, 89, says it was faith that kept her alive.

"I did a lot of praying to the man upstairs," she said. "You got to make yourself keep going. You can't sit and feel sorry for yourself."

Four teens – two girls not yet old enough to drive and two boys who met up with the girls as they drove around Sussex County – will be tried as adults in connection with the kidnapping and robbery of Smith, the Attorney General's Office announced April 9.

A Sussex County Superior Court Grand Jury indicted all four following an investigation into events leading to their March 20 arrest, said Jason Miller, spokesman for the Attorney General's Office.

Smith was reported missing by her family March 18; court records detail her ordeal. It began when she agreed to give two girls a ride home and ended two days later when the girls drove off in her Buick Le Sabre, leaving a dazed and weak Smith at a cemetery where a passer-by found her, records state.

Junia McDonald, 14, and Jackeline Perez, 15, were indicted on one count each of first-degree carjacking, first-degree kidnapping, first-degree robbery and three counts of second-degree conspiracy. Rondaiges Harper, 17, and Phillip Brewer, 17, were indicted on one count each of first-degree carjacking, first-degree kidnapping and two counts of second-degree conspiracy.

Phillip and Harper are scheduled for a court appearance in Sussex County Superior Court on April 18. Arraignment for the two girls is pending.

A fifth teen, Deniaya Smith, 15, of Bridgeville, was charged with receiving stolen property and second-degree conspiracy. Miller said there is no proceeding against her at this time in Superior Court. Family Court matters are confidential; Miller said he could not comment on whether her case remained there.

Joseph Smack of the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families, which handles juvenile detentions, said Deniaya was released to the custody of a parent. Jackeline and Rondaiges remain in Stevenson House; Junia was moved to New Castle County Detention Center.

"It was felt that was the best placement, away from the other offenders at Stevenson House," Smack said, adding she was not in any danger at Stevenson House.

Phillip Brewer was transferred to Howard R. Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington where he is in the new criminal offenders program, Smack said. Brewer's dropped $5,000 to $22,000 secured bond for the recent charges and $25,000 cash bond for violation of probation.

Family Court reduced the original $122,000 cash bond for both Jackeline and Junia to $56,000 secured bond, Miller said. Rondaiges's bond dropped to $22,000 secured.

Smith fiesty as ever

Smith continues to recover at home where a constant stream of friends and relatives stops by. Her knees are healing, scars and ragged skin proof of her crawl to safety. Her feet are still swollen, the tips of her fingers and toes still numb after hours spent curled up in the trunk of a car in freezing temperatures.

The oldest of seven children, Smith said she has had plenty of friends and family stop in or stay with her since she's been home.

But Smith's taken her new-found celebrity in stride. "You get locked up in a trunk and see how nice it is," she said. "That's an experience I'll never forget."

Her sister, Christy, visiting from California since Easter vacation, has stayed with her in the home Smith shared with her husband, George A. Smith Jr., until he passed away three years ago.

"It's been a nice visit," Christy said. "It's been a happy time to have her here."

Smith went to church Easter Sunday shortly after her release from the hospital. The congregation and later her family celebrated her triumph.

Smith's feet don't quite hit the floor of the easy chair where she sits and eats a piece cake while recalling her first impressions of the two teenage girls.

She said she remembers thinking the girls who asked her for a ride seemed nice. But that didn't last long.

"I was shocked they'd do something like that," she said. "I was trying to do something nice. Kids aren't the same as they were when I was growing up."

Smith will give no more rides to strangers; she's given up driving for good.

When asked if there's anything she'd like to say to the teens, she paused for a few seconds and then said, "No comment."

Two days in a trunk

Smith met Jackeline and Junia, both of Milford, about 11 a.m. March 18, when they asked if she would give them a ride home from the Mills Brothers Chicken Man convenience store on SE Second Street between McColley and Marshall streets in Milford.

A Milford School District official said Junia and Jackeline were enrolled in the school district but would give no further information. The day of the kidnapping was a regular school day in the district.

Smith obliged, but the girls directed her to two Lincoln-area addresses and then to a third, where they robbed her, court records state. Smith struggled with the girls when they demanded her car keys, but the girls prevailed and forced Smith into the car trunk, said state police spokesman Master Cpl. Gary Fournier.

The girls drove around for a while before they stopped in what Smith stated in court records she believed to be West Rehoboth. At that point, they forced Smith to give them $500 from her coat pocket.

On March 19, the girls picked up some other friends in Coverdale and they all spent the night at the Days Inn in Seaford; Smith was left in the car trunk the entire time and was given no food or water, Fournier said.

A clerk who answered the phone at Days Inn said the motel requires  identification that shows a person is 18 or older when renting a room. When asked how the teens were able to rent a room, he said they might have had stolen ID.

The morning of March 20, court records state, the teens left Smith at a cemetery on Calvary Road, east of Seaford, where a visitor saw her crawling on hands and knees and called police. Police found Smith confused and suffering from exposure; she was taken to Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, where she was treated and released, Fournier said.

"She was out of it at the hospital, and we weren't pressuring her to give answers," he said.

Smith went home with a relative who brought Smith to the police station later in the evening March 20 to tell police what happened, Fournier said.

While Smith was at the Georgetown troop telling the story of her kidnapping, police in Bridgeville stopped Smith's car on Chaplains Chapel Road with the teens inside, Fournier said.

A day before Smith was abducted, three of the teens who have since been indicted were found riding in a stolen Honda Accord when an officer stopped the vehicle north of Harrington. Fournier clarified Junia, Jackeline and Rondaiges were passengers in the car that was reported stolen from McColley Street in Milford March 15. Police released the teens that night to the custody of their parents. They will not be charged in connection with the stolen car, he said.

The driver, Jermaine Roberts, 20, of Bridgeville turned himself in to police March 31 to face charges of receiving stolen property and driving without a valid license. He was released on $2,500 unsecured bond.

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