In a Oct. 5 court hearing, Goethals set Smith’s bail at $1.1 million. Hicks had requested a much higher amount, arguing that Smith could face a life sentence if convicted of all charges. But Smith’s Chicago-based attorney, Gerardo Gutierrez, argued that marijuana and hashish were treated much more harshly 40 years ago than they are today. Ultimately, Goethals went with what he said was a middle-of-the-road bail amount after taking other factors into account.
“Mr. Smith has been out of the country for over 30 years,” Goethals said. However, he continued, “at least part of that time he was in a monastery in Tibet or someplace, and he came back voluntarily. . . . I don’t know what the sentence could be for this case. I can’t imagine it’s a life sentence, but it has to take into account the time he was gone and the fact he came back voluntarily. I don’t know why he did that; maybe it was because he thought everyone would have forgotten him by now.”
Brenice Lee Smith in handcuffs at his Oct. 5 hearing at the Orange County Superior Courthouse
Unfortunately for Smith, memories run long at the Orange County DA’s office. Prosecutor Hicks happens to be the son of Cecil Hicks, Orange County’s DA at the time of the original Brotherhood case and therefore the top law-enforcement official involved in the group’s prosecution. (One law-enforcement source who helped take down the Brotherhood remarked that the case was so old he couldn’t believe the charges hadn’t already been dropped.)
For his part, Gutierrez believes the DA’s office is trying to punish Smith before convicting him of any crime. “I think this case is being prosecuted backward,” he says. “They want him to spend as much time behind bars as possible because that may be the only punishment he gets.”