After an Anne Arundel County grand jury on Friday returned first-degree murder and hate crime charges against an Annapolis man who police say shot six people, three fatally, the county’s top prosecutor announced she will try the high-profile case herself.

Anne Colt Leitess, a Democrat who has served as state’s attorney since 2019 and from 2013-2015, will lead the case against Charles Robert Smith with the assistance of Jason Steinhardt, an assistant state’s attorney, her office said in a news release.

According to the indictment, Smith faces 42 charges related to a June 11 mass shooting on Paddington Place in Annapolis. The hate crime charges are made in connection with the deaths of Nick Mireles, 55; of Odenton; his son, Mario Mireles, 27, of Annapolis; and Christian Segovia, 25, of Severn. Smith initially had been facing charges, including second-degree murder.

Three victims suffered gunshot wounds and survived: Rosalina Segovia, 29, Paul Melvin Johnson III, 28 and Enner Joel Cananles-Hernandez, 26. Three additional people “were allegedly assaulted, but uninjured,” according to a news release.

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The victims were attending a birthday party at one end of the street at the home of Mario Mireles’ mother when a conflict over parking in front of Smith’s home inflamed the years-long hostile relationship between the families, as documented in court records.

Most of the victims and the three deceased were Latino. Smith is white.

Leitess takes the case as many in the Latino community have joined the victims’ family members in demanding Smith be indicted on hate crime charges.

In a similarly high-stakes felony case, the veteran prosecutor in 2021 won murder convictions against the man charged with shooting and killing five Capital Gazette journalists in their Annapolis newsroom in 2018.

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On the night of the party, many cars were parked on Paddington Place, according to police. A confrontation over parking between Smith and Mario Mireles became physical, and Smith pulled out a gun, police said. During a “tussle” over the weapon, Smith shot Mario Mireles and Segovia, police said.

Smith then stood over Mireles and shot him “several more times,” police allege. Smith then went into his home, took out a rifle and fired shots from his front window at people who heard the shots and came to help, police said. Those shots killed Mario Mireles’ father, Nick Mireles, and wounded three others, police said.

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In an interview with investigators, Smith told police he had fired at the victims because they had shot at his house, police reported. But police stated that no witnesses they interviewed saw any of the victims with a gun.

When police arrived at the scene around 8 p.m., Smith was at the front door of his house with his hands up and surrendered, police said.

An attorney for Charles Smith did not respond to a request for comment.

Maryland’s hate crime statute adds up to 20 years to a sentence and up to $20,000 in financial penalties if a crime resulting in a victim’s death was motivated by hate toward a person or group belonging to a constitutionally protected class, such as race or ethnicity.

To level a hate crime charge, prosecutors must determine whether they have “tangible facts that would constitute probable cause to show that the criminal activity was motivated by racial hatred, or other racial animosity,” said José Anderson, a professor of criminal law and procedure at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

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And the burden of whether to charge a hate crime falls on the prosecutor, he said. The process is “fact dependent” and could include a demonstrated history of racial hatred, Anderson said.

Several Latino neighbors on Paddington Place alleged they witnessed racist language and slurs from members of the Smith family for years.

Neighbors who spoke to The Baltimore Banner under the condition of anonymity because they feared for their safety said they knew to steer clear of the Smiths’ home.

One young female neighbor who moved to the street more than 15 years ago with her family recalled neighbors warning them to stay away from the home. While most neighbors on the street were close and frequently texted, she called the Smiths a “bad egg” family. Charles Randall “Randy” Smith, who died in 2020, had a “reputation” for yelling “Go back to Mexico” out of his car window, the young woman said.

One Salvadoran neighbor said Charles Smith in December approached her daughter for taking too long to park her car.

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“These Mexicans,” she recalled him saying. “These sons of bitches.”

“We knew that [Charles] looked for trouble with everyone around here,” the Salvadoran mother said. “All the Hispanic people.”

Public records documented a history of conflict between the Mireles and Smith families.

Shirley Smith, the defendant’s mother, in 2016 sought relief from Mario Mireles, alleging he backed his car out of his driveway, forcing her to brake quickly. Weeks later, he hit her car with a wet towel or blanket as she drove past, she wrote. She filed a second peace order against Mireles’ mother, Harcinia Ruiz, saying Ruiz had come to her workplace, a grocery store, to harass her.

Mario Mireles responded with a peace order request of his own, saying Shirley Smith had “always had problems with me and my neighbors say[ing] racist thing[s],” since he was 11, he wrote. She had driven her car past him fast and close, “as in targeting me,” he wrote in the application, adding, “This has bin my first time ever being shocked thinking my life was going to be on the line.”

The court denied all three peace orders.

Anderson, the criminal law expert, said that while statements from many witnesses identifying a pattern of alleged racially motived conduct could support a hate crime charge, a judge ultimately has discretion over what type of evidence is admissible at trial.

To win a hate crime conviction, the prosecutor must prove the defendant is guilty of acting on racial hatred beyond a reasonable doubt, Anderson said.

During a bail review hearing in June, Charles Smith’s then-lawyer, Mark Howes, told the judge his client is single, does not have a criminal record and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from his military service.

Smith is set to appear back in court on July 31, according to court records. He’s being held without bail.

Brenda Wintrode covers state government, agencies and politics. Before joining The Baltimore Banner, Wintrode wrote an award winning series of long form investigations for Wisconsin Watch.

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