This article was last modified on November 22, 2017.

Antonio Smith: The Milwaukee-Appleton Connection

Antonio Smith was born in Mississippi in January 1982 and his family moved to Chicago when he was an infant. They moved again, to Milwaukee, when he was in the sixth grade. His home life was bleak. Records indicate Smith’s father died when Smith was young but don’t say how. His mother was strung out on drugs. Smith, the only boy in a family with five sisters, supported the household by selling drugs to feed the family — and his mother’s addiction.

Although he left Chicago at an early age, he still had strong connections to that city through his family and his involvement with the Gangster Disciples street gang. Two weeks after his 12th birthday, Smith robbed a woman and her son at gunpoint outside the Blockbuster on W. North Ave. in Wauwatosa. Smith was with two other boys, but he was the one with the gun. He pointed it at the woman’s chest and demanded her purse and the videos she had rented. She handed everything over. The woman’s 9-year-old son cowered nearby. Smith was caught and sent to Ethan Allan, a youth prison that has since closed.

After he was released, Smith nearly graduated from Custer High School but left after a series of suspensions for fighting with teachers and administrators. By 18, he had racked up charges of fleeing from police and fighting officers. In 2000, he was charged with possession of a sawed-off shotgun. Smith’s attorney sought a psychological assessment by a doctor, arguing he was not mentally competent to proceed. The doctor said Smith had a history of hallucinations and anger issues. But he was on medication and was found competent, meaning he understood the charges against him and could help in his defense. Smith was convicted of the gun charge and sentenced to a year in prison with four years of extended supervision. With a public defender, he fought the case all the way to the state Supreme Court, arguing the gun was found during an illegal search. He lost.

When Smith got out of prison, it didn’t take long for him to get locked up again, for four months, this time after being convicted of leading police on a high-speed chase. Six days after he was released in the fleeing case, Smith was arrested and charged with choking his girlfriend and throwing her on a car. The case was dismissed when the woman did not show up for court. Months later, Smith was stopped in North Dakota, suspected of sex trafficking and selling cocaine.

It was October 2005 and Antonio Smith was at a show by rapper Twista at the Rave on Milwaukee’s west side. He wanted to get on stage, so he slipped a $100 bill to a security guard. The rapper’s security detail quickly spotted him and got him off stage. The Rave’s guards took it from there, escorting him out the front door. Smith got in his car and drove through a parking lot behind the venue. He slowed his Chevy Malibu, pulling up right next to the head security guard, who had booted him and was standing outside. Smith pointed a gun directly at the guard’s chest. He pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. The security boss frantically ran away.

Two Milwaukee police officers arrived in the Rave parking lot right after Smith’s gun misfired. They chased Smith and watched as he tossed a gun from the car. Smith reached speeds of 90 mph before crashing on N. 25th St. He narrowly avoided hitting a house, but was able to run. Police found Smith hiding under a porch. It took four officers to get him into custody and he kicked and shouted in the police van all the way to the station.
Officers found an unspent round of ammunition and crack cocaine in the car. Smith was on parole and only four months out of prison. He tried to say he hadn’t been at the Rave, but cops found a ticket stub for the show in his pocket. Smith was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and resisting officers. He was not charged with trying to shoot the guard. The reason, according to court records — the guard was unwilling to cooperate and testify.

Behind bars, Smith was charged with lewd behavior for exposing himself to a female guard.

November 26, 2007: Charged with felony escape after he walks away from prison. By Christmas 2008, he was released.

May 2, 2009: Pulls a gun on a woman during a custody dispute involving his child, but police cannot find him and he is not charged.

June 2, 2010: Convicted of drug dealing in the Fox Valley (Outagamie County); sentenced to four years.

In 2011, Smith was sentenced to four years in prison for running a drug operation in the Appleton area.

In 2013, an investigator with the state Department of Justice learned from an informant that Smith was selling cocaine and marijuana in the prison in Green Bay. According to court records, here’s how it worked: Smith would line up prisoners who wanted to buy drugs. Those buyers would arrange to have money orders or cash sent to a post office box. Kim Stelow would collect that money and buy drugs from Smith’s connection in Milwaukee. Stelow then smuggled the drugs into the prison. She put the drugs inside a balloon and tucked the package in her bra. Once inside the prison, she took it out. Then she transferred it to Smith by kissing him.

Stelow later told investigators she did this five times and delivered “a bunch of drugs” to Smith. Stelow set up the post office box under her own name along with her nicknames of “Pepper” and “Snow Bunny.” Postal officials reported that all of the mail to that box was from prisoners and much of it was cash and money orders. They knew this because Stelow asked about missing mail and told post office employees she was getting money orders and cash.

In March 2014, agents arranged for an informant to buy drugs from Stelow in Milwaukee. Police watched as Stelow sold what turned out to be 27 grams of cocaine to an informant near a Dollar Tree store on N. 76th St. and W. Capitol Drive. They later confirmed her fingerprints were on the cottage cheese container containing the drugs.

Smith was released in February 2015 and was picked up by Kim Stelow. He requested and received permission to live in Chicago and be supervised by the Illinois Department of Corrections. He was on standard supervision there, though he had been on more intensive supervision in Wisconsin. In early 2015, Smith missed required visits and contacts with his agent in Illinois, but the agent did nothing more than order him into the office in July 2015. Smith wasn’t even living in Illinois, as he was supposed to be.

Smith shot and killed 35-year old Eddie Powe July 11, 2015 in the 2600 block of W. Port Sunlight Way in a dispute centering on drug debts and jealousy over girlfriends. As paramedics tried to save him, Powe told police he was shot by “Tone,” Smith’s street nickname. Powe died of six gunshot wounds. John Spivey, who was at the scene, said Smith and Powe were arguing when Smith pulled a gun and shot Powe three times at close range and shot him three more times as he tried to flee. Smith, who also goes by the nickname “Hitman,” then casually walked to a minivan, got in and drove away, according to the complaint.

17-year old Breanna Eskridge used Powe’s phone to call his 16-year-old son, telling the teen his father was just shot and killed on N. 26th Street and W. Atkinson Ave. Powe’s son panicked and hung up to call his mother. He called Eskridge back a few minutes later and asked where she was. “With your father,” she said. “I have so much blood on me.” Powe’s son hung up again. Later, he tried calling a second time. No one answered. The next day, a different phone, the one Eskridge shared with her 17-year-old twin sister, started pinging with threatening texts and Facebook messages. (At 14, Breanna became a mother. After her daughter was born, she continued her education, attending Keefe Avenue School and Community High School.)

Powe’s homicide occurred just hours after a block party in the same area hosted by Safe Zones organizers. The Safe Zones tap into residents who already have credibility in challenged neighborhoods to prevent violence and is based on the “Cure Violence Health Model,” also known as the “Interrupters Model.” The model involves training trusted insiders of a community to anticipate where violence will occur and intervene before it erupts. The residents were recruited through the Helping Others Obtain Direction, or H.O.O.D., Ambassadors program.

Spivey, 48, drank a few beers and decided to go back out hours after the murder. He stopped by his aunt’s house and grabbed his .40-caliber Glock to take revenge on the person who had shot his friend. As he walked the dark streets near The One-Way, Spivey fired off a round in honor of Powe. The gunfire caught the attention of police still in the area for the earlier homicide. Officers ran after Spivey and arrested him. With a prior felony drug conviction, Spivey was barred from having a gun. Facing several new charges, Spivey soon decided to talk. That’s Powe’s blood, he told detectives, pointing at stains on his left sock and shoe. He described how the shooting unfolded, but claimed he didn’t know the real name of the triggerman.

The night of July 19, Breanna met her twin sister and Wynette McClelland on The One-Way. They lit vigil candles, smoked and hung out for a bit before McClelland needed to go pick up a friend. She offered the twins a ride on her way. The twins didn’t want to go back to the group home — they had a pass to be out for the night — so sister Brittany suggested they stay with a friend on Concordia Ave. They got in McClelland’s car. As she pulled away, McClelland got a call from Smith. He asked where she was. She said she was on her way to the club. “Yeah, right, I know them (expletive) are with you,” Smith said. McClelland hung up and drove the twins to pick up her friend, the one who was going with her to the club. McClelland’s friend climbed in the back seat with Breanna, who was seated behind McClelland while her twin rode up front in the passenger seat. As McClelland headed toward the twins’ destination on Concordia, she glanced in her rearview mirror and noticed a blue Chevy Impala. It seemed to be following her.

The twins asked her to stop at the Mobil gas station near the freeway so they could buy snacks. McClelland obliged, hoping the blue car would stop following if they made a detour. After the twins went inside the station to buy candy and gum, McClelland got another call. It was Smith: “Hurry up and drop them off or I’m going to shoot up your car.” McClelland looked around but didn’t see the blue car. The twins returned. McClelland said nothing. She continued driving, making a few turns before getting to Concordia and stopping at the corner of N. 13th St. Brittany helped McClelland’s friend, who was tipsy and wearing tall, spiky heels, to the front passenger seat.
“Hurry up,” McClelland said. Her friend plopped down in the passenger seat. Before she had a chance to close the door, McClelland sped off.

The sisters walked side-by-side up a few concrete steps and were halfway to the porch when Brittany heard someone say, “Twin, come here. Twin!” She ignored it. No one knew they were staying here tonight. They climbed the wooden porch stairs. A man dressed in all black emerged from the tight alleyway between houses. Brittany would later say all she could see were the man’s eyes and his black, 9mm gun. “This is a robbery,” the man said. “Where the gun at?” The twins froze. The man jumped onto the porch and held the gun to Breanna’s temple. “Where the gun at?” he said. “Where the money?” Breanna looked at her sister: “Brittany, run!” Her sister obeyed and was close to the street corner when she heard several gunshots. She turned and saw her sister lying on the porch, the man standing over her. He kept firing.

In an effort to erase any witnesses to the crime, Smith executed 17-year-old Breanna Eskridge. Eskridge also witnessed the shooting and held Powe after he was gunned down. Her mother told police a love triangle was to blame for the slayings. Powe first dated Lyons and later Eskridge. Lyons then began dating Smith and was pregnant with his child.

The day after the Eskridge murder, detectives came to visit Spivey at the House of Correction in Franklin. They brought a selection of mugshots, including a photo of Antonio “Tone” Smith who they believed to be the shooter. Spivey pointed at Smith’s photo. “Yup, that’s the boy,” he said. “It’s an old picture, but this is the boy.” Then he wrote on the back of the photo, misspelling his friend’s name: “To whom it may concern this is the person that i observe shoot Mr. Poe.”

Around September 2015, agents searched Stelow’s apartment in Kaukauna and found the SUV she was seen driving the day of the drug deal on Capitol Drive. They also found a white Chevy Tahoe in her garage, which matched the vehicle in which Smith was seen leaving the scene of the Powe homicide earlier that year.

On November 2, 2015, Lorenzo Beaton posted Spivey’s bail under a cover story that Spivey’s parents were ill, explaining why someone Spivey doesn’t know was putting up the $7,600 in cash. Lyons and Beaton were waiting outside the jail to get Spivey as he left, but district attorney investigators intercepted him. After they failed to get Spivey, Lyons and Beaton were spotted walking through the Safety Building trying to learn where Spivey had gone.

Smith instructed moving on to “Plan B,” which was to kill Spivey where he lives, on N. 28th Street. Law enforcement staked out the area. Milwaukee police spotted Lyons in the area but she escaped. She was arrested, along with Beaton and Shaheem Smith, on November 5. Beaton’s arrest came after a foot chase with officers.

After various delays, Smith’s case finally went to trial in February 2017, with Smith acting as his own attorney. His attorney, Tom Erickson, sat by his side and Smith asked him to take over a week into the trial. On the day when Smith’s former girlfriend and mother of his child, Shantrell Lyons, was to take the stand, the trial was halted for several hours over a legal issue. Later that day Smith and his nephew, Shaheem Smith, entered guilty pleas.

In April 2017, Smith moved to withdraw his guilty plea just as it appeared he was headed for sentencing. Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joseph Donald reluctantly canceled the sentencing and started the process of Smith getting a new lawyer. Smith told the judge he felt pressured to take the plea and wanted to withdraw it. Donald said he gave Smith time before entering the plea to two homicides in February in the midst of a trial. And the judge noted he asked if Smith needed more time. Donald noted the court rulings instruct judges to “liberally” grant a hearing when a defendant wants to withdraw a guilty plea. That means he has little room to deny it. Had Donald denied it, an appeal of his decision was likely. “I know this is frustrating to all parties concerned,” Donald said but added he needed to grant it to “ensure the defendant is afforded all due process rights.”

When it was clear the sentencing would not happen, family members of the victims stood and walked out of the courtroom. Because Smith raised the issue of ineffective counsel, Smith’s attorney, Tom Erickson, was taken off the case. A new lawyer would be appointed by the public defender’s office. The next hearing was May 12.

In July 2017, Judge Donald denied a motion for new counsel from Smith, who had complained about a lack of communication from his new court-appointed attorney, Russell Jones. “This is just a repeat performance,” Prosecutor Karl Hayes said Monday during a hearing on Smith’s request to withdraw his plea. “There is no attorney that will satisfy Antonio Smith.” Donald then denied Smith’s request, setting the stage for Tuesday’s sentencing.

At sentencing, Powe’s only sibling, Lakesha Kilbert, said she had to quit her job to take care of her mother, who was calling her every day from a nursing home because she couldn’t understand why Powe died. “I’m sure he doesn’t care,” Kilbert said of Smith. “He’s a monster. An animal.”

Latitia Eskridge, Breanna’s mother, said her daughter’s death has left her devastated, and medicated to try to cope. “Sometimes I can’t go on. I shut down,” she said. Breanna’s daughter, now 5, asks why her momma can’t come down from heaven to see her, Eskridge said. “She’s a very sad little girl,” she said.

Smith was sentenced in July 2017 to life in prison, while continuing to deny responsibility for 17-year-old Breanna Eskridge’s death. Smith received a second, consecutive life term for killing Eddie Powe, a crime for which he mistakenly thought Eskridge had implicated him to police. Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joseph Donald also sentenced Smith to another 45 years for conspiring to kill a witness to Powe’s murder, John Spivey.

Also try another article under Organized Crime
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