Mother accused of leaving 5-year-old home alone with gun booked with murder

Laderika Smith was initially accused of cruelty to a juvenile

Brandajah Smith
Brandajah Smith

A woman who was arrested after her 5-year-old daughter shot herself in the head was rebooked with murder late Monday.

Laderika Smith, initially arrested Sunday on a charge of cruelty to a juvenile, appeared in court Tuesday morning on the new murder charge. A magistrate judge set her bond at $75,000.

She told police that she locked her daughter in their home on the 2200 block of North Galvez Street on Sunday morning and left to walk around the block and talk to neighbors.

The kindergartner, Brandajah Smith, apparently found the .38-caliber revolver that was often kept stashed under a bed pillow. She put it to her forehead and pulled the trigger.

Her mother returned to find the girl bleeding in the bedroom closet.

The revolver lay next to her.

The child was on life support for several hours. She died Sunday evening. Police later tested the child’s hands for gunpowder residue and determined that she had pulled the trigger.

Smith told police that she occasionally left the child home alone when she was nearby in the neighborhood, according to court records. She knew the gun was there, she told police. She’s seen it in several places — in the closet, under a mattress, usually beneath the pillow.

A man who identified himself as a cousin of Brandajah said he’d brought the gun to the house, and he was holding it for a friend.

Police originally booked Laderika Smith with cruelty to a juvenile, citing her “criminally negligent” behavior in leaving the child alone with the gun. The New Orleans Police Department announced later Sunday that they intended to change the charges to second-degree murder.

But the NOPD backed off the next morning, saying it would wait to consult with the district attorney on a homicide charge.

Smith was held only on the cruelty charge, and her bond was set Monday at $20,000.

Later Monday evening, she was booked again, this time with second-degree murder.

A magistrate judge added an additional $75,000 bond for a total of $95,000.

Second-degree murder as defined in Louisiana requires either specific intent, or that the killing occurred while the perpetrator was engaged in another violent act, such as armed robbery or rape.

The New Orleans Police Department in court records cited the initial charge, cruelty to a juvenile, as the violent crime during which the child died. Second-degree murder is punishable by a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Louisiana has two lesser crimes that fall under a homicide classification: Manslaughter is typically reserved for killings “in sudden passion or heat of blood,” but also includes slayings “without any intent to cause death or great bodily harm.” It is punishable by up to 40 years. Negligent homicide is “the killing of a human being by criminal negligence.” It is punishable by two to five years if the victim is under 10 years old.

Prosecutors with the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office will ultimately screen the case, deciding what charges to file against Smith.