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Smith sentenced to life in prison for 2018 murder

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DINWIDDIE – After being found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of a Dinwiddie County business owner and father, a Newport News man will spend the rest of life behind bars in connection with the 2018 slaying.

In an interview, Dinwiddie County Commonwealth Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill confirmed Caleb Smith was sentenced to life in prison, plus an additional 33 years for the June 2018 murder of Umar Salaam, who owned and operated a car wash along U.S. Route 1 and Ritchie Avenue.

Smith went on trial this month in connection with the man’s murder, with a Dinwiddie jury finding him guilty of first-degree murder, robbery, and using a firearm in commission of a felony. He now becomes the first of the three suspects charged in connection with the crime to be sentenced so far.

During the summer of last year, local prosecutors announced Smith, Thornhill Sledge, Jhanae Short all had been indicted by a Dinwiddie grand jury on murder, robbery, and felony firearms charges as the community came to grips with what had been a deadly June in the county following the slaying of Salaam and the unrelated but equally senseless kidnapping and murder of Dinwiddie teenager Ke’Asia Adkins.

Short, of Petersburg, was the first of the three suspects to go before a judge in the case in the spring, with her case ending in an Alford plea to an amended second-degree murder charge, meaning she acknowledges the evidence prosecutors likely would have presented against her may have been sufficient enough to lead a jury to find her guilty, and a guilty plea to a felony robbery charge. Firearms and conspiracy charges against the Tri-Cities resident were dismissed.

According to prosecutors, she is currently awaiting sentencing. Short faces up to 40 years in prison for the murder charge.

Sledge, also of Petersburg, is scheduled to go on trial beginning August 15 on the same charges Smith faced in Dinwiddie County Circuit Court - first-degree murder, robbery, and firearms charges.

Also similar to Smith, he faces life in prison, if convicted on the murder charges.

In past conversations, Dinwiddie’s lead prosecutor Baskervill praised the Dinwiddie County Sheriff’s Office for their vigorous efforts to find the suspects involved in this and other crimes in the county and, for Sheriff D.T. Adams, the detectives in his office are valuable assets to his department and the county.

“These are investigators I have trained before I ever became sheriff so, they have a lot of experience and they are up-to-date on new technology that is available to them and they do an excellent job,” he remarked. “I am only as good as the employees I have working for me.”

Adams continued, “When things started to change in Dinwiddie County and we started having an increase in major crimes, we formed a team and anytime we have a major crime that happens in Dinwiddie County, we call that team out and they work together as a unit. It makes a difference in getting the job done because with a team, some people can stay at the scene and collect evidence as we have four officers who are Virginia Forensic Science Academy graduates. It is important to have them trained in these specific disciplines.”

Within days, all three suspects were arrested and, weeks later, the trio were all indicted by a Dinwiddie County grand jury thanks to evidence gathered by investigators with the department. Adams said the cooperation between his office and commonwealth’s attorney is a strong and important element of their law enforcement efforts.

“We have a good working relationship with her office,” the sheriff said. “We can make arrests all day but it is up to them to prosecute. They do an excellent job.”

As one of the county’s most high-profile crimes of 2018 moves through the prosecution process, the efforts of investigators in the hours and days after Salaam’s murder have helped lead to convictions and sentences in the man’s death.

“No case or investigation is too small or not important to me or any deputy in Dinwiddie County,” he remarked. “If a crime happens, we are going to investigate and investigate diligently and try to solve it to bring it to a conclusion.”