Illustration of the courtroom during the Copney trial for the murder of Justin Cosby.
In May 2009, Brittany J. Smith was two weeks away from graduating from the world’s most prestigious university.
Raised in Harlem in New York City, Smith had overcome a tough upbringing by making her way into an application-only public school, graduating in the top of her class with a slew of leadership positions under her belt, and gaining acceptance to Harvard.
Yet just as she stood poised to receive her Harvard diploma, Smith’s hard-won gains suddenly came crashing down.
In the basement of a Harvard dormitory, a young man was shot and killed during an attempted drug robbery—and Smith rapidly found herself dismissed from Harvard, under interrogation for her boyfriend’s involvement in the murder, and then under arrest herself.
That fatal shooting which shattered the springtime serenity of Kirkland House inflamed discussion about drugs, safety, and race at Harvard, but two years later, the fervor on campus has largely died down. Yet for Smith and many others whose lives were touched by the violent incident, the tragic saga is far from over.
In the wake of her boyfriend Jabrai Jordan Copney’s sentencing to life in prison without parole, Smith, 24, is next on the court docket.
The two targets of prosecution were just young lovers two years ago. Their relationship, sustained despite stormy conflicts, catapulted them both to the moment at which Copney participated in a murder at Harvard and Smith was forced out of the gates.
Smith and her attorney, John T. Osler, did not return requests for comment on this story.
Smith was proud of her Harlem roots, making it clear that she had experienced a tough childhood, according to a Harvard classmate.
He recalled that Smith “played the part of someone who had street sense.”
“She’s funny. She’s got attitude. She’s tough,” he said.
Smith charted a stellar record through the New York school system. She was a standout student at Frederick Douglass Academy, a public preparatory school in Harlem, from which she graduated in 2005.
At the academically intense school—where classes meet six days a week and college counselors push students toward higher education—Smith immersed herself in the “most rigorous academic curriculum,” according to Principal Gregory M. Hodge.
“Brittany Smith had a wonderful education here,” Hodge said. “A model student at the school—she was a very, very good candidate for an Ivy League [college].”