Groton man who started fight in death case gets 1-year prison sentence

James "Buddha" Smith, who started a fight five years ago that led to the death of a Groton man, was sentenced today to a year in prison.

Smith, 24, of Groton was out drinking with friends on April 13, 2008 when he began fighting with Jose Cartagena behind a house in the Poquonnock Bridge neighborhood. According to court testimony, somebody pulled Smith off Cartagena and placed him in a car, but others continued the fight and Dirren T. Conyers placed Cartagena in a choke hold that ultimately led to his death. Conyers was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and first-degree unlawful restraint last year and sentenced to nine years in prison. He is appealing his conviction.

At Conyers' trial, Smith testified that he was too drunk to remember what happened. Other witnesses said the fight began after Cartagena made a disrespectful remark to somebody's mother.

Smith was charged with unlawful restraint, third-degree assault and breach of peace. While his case was pending, he was charged with other crimes and served several short stints in prison.

Prosecutor Paul J. Narducci said Smith has recently kept himself drug and alcohol free.

Smith apologized to the court for being "stupid."

"You stepped up to the plate," Judge Susan B. Handy said. "You cooperated with the state and testified in the Conyers matter, so you deserve credit for that."

Smith was expected to be released almost immediately because he had accrued credit for time served. She told him she hopes he has matured and that he moves to North Carolina, as he has said he might.


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