Man charged with killing South Side dance coach whose studio was a safe space for children
Verndell Smith’s sister said the charges feel like “justice served.” “It’s bittersweet,” LaToya Smith said. “I can never get my brother back, but I can show this to his dance kids and how (police) are gonna get the bad guys.”
Surveillance video helped detectives track and identify a gunman charged with killing a South Side dance coach who ran his studio as a safe space for children, Cook County prosecutors said Friday.
Prosecutors offered no motive in court Friday for why Diontay Kimberly allegedly killed Verndell Smith in the parking lot on May 19 not far from his studio.
Although it’s unclear why Smith was shot, his sister said the charges feel like “justice served.”
“It’s bittersweet,” LaToya Smith said Friday. “I can never get my brother back, but I can show this to his dance kids and how (police) are gonna get the bad guys.”
Prosecutors said surveillance video shows Kimberly, 31, driving into the Dunkin parking lot at 75th Street and King Drive and opening fire at Smith, who was talking on his phone.
Prosecutors did not say if the pair had interacted before the shooting.
Smith, 32, was shot in his leg, arm, forehead and torso and pronounced dead at the University of Chicago Medical Center, police said. Prosecutors said 13 shell casings were recovered.
Video gathered by detectives shows Kimberly leaving the murder scene and driving for 15 minutes to a car wash, where detectives gathered more video that showed Kimberly’s face and his truck’s license plate, pinning him as the driver, prosecutors said.
Surveillance video at the Dunkin shows the truck’s distinctive rims and the gunman’s gold bracelet, prosecutors said. Video at the car wash allegedly showed Kimberly wearing that same bracelet.
After the shooting, police watched Kimberly’s car outside his home on Sept. 7 and saw him enter the car with his girlfriend, who was a passenger at the time of the murder, prosecutors said.
Those officers followed him and tried to pull him over for a traffic violation, but Kimberly sped off, prosecutors said. The car was later towed in suburban Evergreen Park.
Kimberly was arrested Sept. 15 when he tried to retrieve the vehicle. He allegedly had a gun on him, but it was not the same one used in the murder. He was charged with unlawful use of a weapon.
Police searched his truck and found a shell casing on the outside windshield matching those used in the murder, prosecutors said. They also recovered Kimberly’s three cellphones, which all pinned him to the scene of the murder when it occurred.
Kimberly lives in Chicago with his grandmother and is expecting a child, his defense attorney said. He has an associate’s degree in business management from Richard J. Daley College and works in construction, the attorney said.
Judge Mary C. Marubio ordered Kimberly held without bail.
Although partially deaf, Smith “found his voice” through dancing, LaToya Smith told the Sun-Times last spring. He opened a dance studio, the Ultimate Threat Dance Organization, that he considered a safe space for the children.
“He wanted to give other children an outlet to forget their struggles in life,” LaToya Smith said. “People came in the door not knowing how to dance. And they left, as we’d say, ‘the coldest in Chicago.’ ”
“My brother was a giver,” she said, not only instilling a passion for dancing but helping his students any way he could.
Verndell Smith was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and moved to Chicago at age 6. He was influenced by R&B and the dance moves of Usher, Chris Brown, B2K and Michael Jackson, according to his Bud Billiken Parade biography.
LaToya Smith said she hopes her brother is remembered for his determination and for his dreams.
“He had a disability, the fact he couldn’t hear, and he continued to push through,” she said. “I want people to go after your dreams. He wanted to be a rapper, and at age 31, he started to rap again. It’s never too late.”