RHINELANDER - Mathew Smith entered an Oneida County courtroom Monday morning with his head bowed as he crossed in front of ex-girlfriend Kimber McKenzie.
"His body language is different. The way he's presenting himself is completely different," McKenzie said.
McKenzie, who is the mother of a 1-year-old child with Smith, came to Smith's sentencing to get some closure to a dark part of her life.
"Once the drugs come into the factor, they completely change him," McKenzie said.
Drugs like methamphetamine fueled the events that put Smith in jail. November 16, 2017, he barricaded himself in a home along Highway 8 near Rhinelander. The criminal complaint shows Smith threatened McKenzie and himself with a knife. It took police about six hours to get Smith safely out of the home after the suspect let everyone else go in the first 30 minutes.
"Mr. Smith's conduct, while in custody and on probation has been, in a word, deplorable," Assistant District Attorney Mary Sowinski said.
Smith's troubles didn't start or end that day. He already faced theft and drug charges starting in 2015 in Oneida County, then got into a fight while in jail awaiting prosecution on the standoff case that led to felony charges.
"It's clear that Mr. Smith did not have a nurturing childhood," defense attorney Charles Andrew Ver Hoeve said.
Ver Hoeve pointed to an abusive upbringing that saw his father leave when he was five, apparent mental health issues, and drug abuse as reasons for Smith's struggles with the law. Those factors also played into a plea deal with lighter punishment for Smith in the standoff case.
"I'm remorseful for what I did and I know I wasn't right for the things that I did," Smith told Judge Michael Bloom. "I'm just trying to get past that."
Bloom agreed Smith's behavior improved since he's sat in jail for a year without access to drugs, comparing his progress to firewood that takes time before it's ready to burn.
"Mr. Smith was simply, completely soaked in substance abuse," Bloom said. "Some things take a lot of drying out before they're ready."
Bloom called Smith's past run-ins with the law "an ongoing problem", but also noted the now 22-year-old never really intended to hurt anyone on that November day. Still, Bloom said, police had no way of knowing the magnitude of the threat.
"One of the ironies of this whole situation is the most likely person to end up being harmed or killed as a result of Mr. Smith's actions on the date was Mr. Smith," Bloom said.
The judge decided to lump several jail sentences ranging from three to nine months into time Smith is currently serving for past cases, which means he'll see no additional jail time. Bloom also withheld a possible prison sentence in this case, putting Smith on a combined six years of probation with a command to stay clean and out of trouble.
"Is it possible that less [time] than that could be justified? Possible," Bloom said. "Is it possible that more than that could be justified? That certainly could be possible. I want to retain the right to size things up at the time if it comes to that, which hopefully it will not... If you do not [fulfill your probation], there is a grim period of time in the future awaiting you."
McKenzie thinks bringing their toddler to jail to visit this year helped Smith turn a corner. She hopes this chance will be the last one he needs.
"If he keeps doing good, I believe that he'll be able to be there for his son and watch him grow up and be part of his life," McKenzie said.
Attorneys still need to figure out how much credit Smith will get for the time he's already spent in jail. Sowinski told McKenzie she thinks Smith will get out of jail in spring 2019.