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Student linked to slaying is jailed

She let gunman use Harvard dorm

By Martin Finucane and John R. Ellement
Globe Staff / October 1, 2011

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In a case in which drug violence erupted at one of the world’s most renowned universities, a former Harvard student from New York was sentenced yesterday to three years in prison for her role as an accessory in the 2009 murder of a Cambridge man inside a Harvard University dormitory.

Brittany Smith, 24, was a senior at Harvard, just days away from her graduation, when her then-boyfriend, Jabrai Jordan Copney, and two of his friends, all of New York, lured Justin Cosby into the Kirkland House residential building, ostensibly to complete a marijuana sale, prosecutors said.

Instead of purchasing marijuana, however, Copney and his friends, who had used Smith’s ID card to gain entry to the building, attempted to rob Cosby. When he tried to escape, Cosby was shot and fatally wounded, authorities said.

Cosby was 21 years old when he died at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center on May 19, 2009.

None of the men involved in the attack were Harvard students. But, according to court records, Smith had let Copney essentially live with her at Harvard in the months before the killing.

She let the three men gather in her dorm room and load the firearm in front of her before the attempted robbery took place, the records stated.

And after the fatal shooting, Smith took and hid the murder weapon in a neighbor’s bedroom, helped the men escape to New York City, and returned to Harvard the next day when she lied to police investigating the killing, according to prosecutors.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Denise Cosby, the shooting victim’s mother, said that without Smith’s providing them access to Harvard, the New York men would never have been able to lure her son into danger.

“If it hadn’t been for her, there would have been no crime,’’ Denise Cosby said. “She was the nucleus of the whole thing.’’

Smith, a scholarship student who was three days away from getting her diploma at Harvard, appeared yesterday in Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn, where she pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, illegal possession of a firearm, willfully misleading a grand jury, and willfully misleading a police officer.

According to the office of Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr., Superior Court Judge Kathe Tuttman sentenced Smith to three years and one day in state prison.

Smith, who had been free on bail, was immediately taken into custody to begin serving her sentence.

Denise Cosby said she supported the plea deal, although she would have preferred to see Smith imprisoned for a longer time. “But I think it is important for her to know that she has to pay for the crime, for her part in it,’’ Denise Cosby said.

In a prepared statement, Leone said that Smith’s plea brings an end to the Harvard murder investigation.

“The final person bearing legal responsibility for this tragedy has now admitted their role in Justin’s murder and been held accountable,’’ he said in the statement.

After the shooting, Harvard University barred Smith from graduating.

A fourth person, Chanequa N. Campbell, was also a Harvard senior and was a friend to Smith and the three men.

After the killing, Campbell cooperated with investigators and has not faced criminal charges.

Copney was convicted of first-degree murder and is now serving life in state prison without the possibility of parole. His conviction will automatically be reviewed by the Supreme Judicial Court.

His two codefendants pleaded guilty to lesser charges after they agreed to provide prosecutors with information that helped to convict Copney.

Jason Aquino pleaded guilty to manslaughter on March 24, and was sentenced to 18 to 20 years in state prison. Blayn Jiggetts testified against Copney at his trial. He has not been sentenced. All of the male defendants are in their 20s.

“It’s really kind of surreal still. There is something unnatural about my baby son being dead. I can’t cry anymore. I can’t sleep without medication,’’ Denise Cosby said. “I’m kind of existing with no feelings whatsoever.’’

But, she said, she will be at Jiggetts’ sentencing.

“I have been at every hearing for the past 2 1/2 years. I can be at one more,’’ Denise Cosby said. “That is something I did for my son. He did not deserve to be killed like this,’’ she said.

“I will always cherish my son’s memory, and make sure he is not forgotten.’’

John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com.