Angelo Smith told the family of the woman he killed that he is already in hell.
Now he’s going to prison, too.
The 32-year-old pleaded guilty Thursday to a series of charges connected to the 2014 killing of his girlfriend, Bianca Tanner, a newly hired Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teacher whose disappearance set off a citywide hunt by her family and police.
Under the terms of a plea deal with prosecutors and Superior Court Judge Bob Bell, Smith will serve at least 19 years for manslaughter, kidnapping and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The judge rejected Smith’s request that he be allowed to enter prison programs that might allow him to be released in time to see his 8-year-old daughter graduate from college.
That request brought a shiver of added disgust from Tanner’s family. During emotional and lengthy remarks that swung from sobs to angry disbelief, they spoke of the pain they continue to feel over the loss of their loved one and the contempt they hold for Smith, who they say swore his innocence to them for weeks after Tanner’s disappearance in June 2014. Twenty-six days passed before police found Tanner’s decomposed body in a wooded area off Westinghouse Boulevard, 18 miles from the couple’s apartment.
Tanner’s mother, Antoinette Closs, told Bell that Smith “played God with Bianca and then lied about it.” She said his weeks of denials cost the family the closure of a proper funeral, forcing them “to watch on TV as police came out of the woods with brown paper bags” carrying Tanner’s remains.
“I feel bad saying this because I love the Lord, but I hate Angelo,” Closs said, checking her notes. “I think he is – let me get this right when I say it – a narcissistic poison disguised as a man.”
The waves of sadness and anger ran on for almost an hour. Jeremy Tanner, the father of the dead woman’s young son, broke down in sobs when he told Bell how the boy recently asked him, “Are you going to leave me like Mommy did?”
Alicia Closs, one of the dead woman’s sisters, recounted how Smith begged her “not to turn your back on me” after having already put Tanner’s body “in the woods to rot.”
Tanner, 31, and Smith moved to Charlotte from Greensboro after Tanner was hired by CMS. She disappeared 10 days later.
Prosecutor Anna Greene told the courtroom Smith killed Tanner on June 7, 2014, during an argument at their home, then buried her body with the help of a friend. He reported his girlfriend’s disappearance to police, saying she had left after the argument and never returned.
After the friend confessed and led police to the makeshift grave on July 3, Smith confessed that he had put chokeholds on his girlfriend during the fight “until she was no longer fighting back,” Greene said.
The prosecutor said investigators could not identify “a concrete cause of death,” which was a factor in prosecutors offering the plea agreement. Smith was originally charged with first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence without parole.
Both families were kept out of the courtroom until shortly before Smith walked through a door flanked by deputies. Noting some “volatility” between the families in the past, Bell warned them to behave or leave.
Smith, who had a history of violence against women before he began dating Tanner, stared at the floor during the rebukes from his victim’s family.
Given his chance to speak, the 6-foot-3, strongly muscled defendant stood with a written statement in his hands and turned to face Tanner’s loved ones.
During sometimes rambling remarks, he apologized for what had happened. He said a “simple misunderstanding had snowballed into the very worst outcome,” costing him a “companion and a confidante.”
He said he lied about Tanner’s whereabouts during a period when he was “self-absorbed” and had been trapped in a nightmare from the start.
“I know you hate me. I know you want me to go to hell,” Smith said. “I want you to know I’ve been in hell since June 7, 2014.”
Through most of his remarks, Tanner’s friends and family looked away.
Only the dead woman’s mother stared back.