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Ghost gun killer gets multiple life sentences for executing mother of his fiancée’s ex-boyfriend in twisted revenge plot

Jack Doherty (Pawtucket Police Department)

Jack Doherty (Pawtucket Police Department)

A 27-year-old New York man will spend the rest of his life behind bars in Rhode Island for using a ghost gun to execute the mother of his then-fiancée’s ex-boyfriend as part of a twisted revenge plot. Superior Court Justice Kristen E. Rodgers ordered Jack Doherty to serve two consecutive life sentences for the murder of Cheryl Smith on New Year’s Day in 2020, authorities announced.

A Providence County jury in November found Doherty guilty of one count each of murder, discharge of a firearm when committing a crime of violence resulting in death, conspiracy to commit murder, and carrying a pistol without a permit. Doherty unsuccessfully attempted to employ an affirmative defense against the charges by pleading not guilty by reason of insanity.

Judge Rodgers handed down consecutive life sentences for both the murder and discharging of a firearm charge. Additionally, the Court sentenced the defendant to a consecutive five-year sentence for conspiracy to commit murder, and 10 years suspended with 10 years probation for possession of a pistol without a license.

Doherty’s fiancée at the time, Shaylyn Moran, in 2021 pleaded guilty to her role in the planning and execution of Smith’s murder. She was sentenced to life in prison plus an additional 20 years.

Shaylyn Moran (Pawtucket Police Department)

Shaylyn Moran (Pawtucket Police Department)

According to a press release from the Office of the Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Neronha, Doherty and Moran began a long-distance romantic relationship in 2019, which included the couple exchanging many messages via text and over social media. Prosecutors say that in the months before Smith’s murder, Doherty and Moran hatched a plan to attack Moran’s ex-boyfriend.

Details regarding the reason Moran wanted to attack her ex-boyfriend are unclear.

Doherty on Dec. 31, 2019, traveled from New York to a hotel in Rhode Island where he and Moran met in person for the first time. He brought a 9mm ghost gun with him, prosecutors say.

The two rented a room and later attended a New Year’s Eve party where Doherty proposed to Moran. But rather than planning their future wedding, prosecutors say the newly engaged couple instead planned a cold-blooded murder.

“The two returned to their hotel room and developed a plan for the defendant to shoot and kill anyone who answered the door at the home where Shaylyn Moran’s ex-boyfriend lived on Baxter Street,” the release states. “On the evening of January 1, 2020, following Shaylyn Moran’s instruction, the defendant traveled to Baxter Street and after surveilling the home, knocked on the door. Cheryl Smith answered the door, and the defendant shot her four times with his 9mm ghost gun pistol, before fleeing.”

First responders arrived on the scene shortly after the shooting and transported Smith to the hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Just minutes after the shooting, Doherty messaged Moran via Snapchat, writing, “now this is for life.” Moran responded with a heart emoji and the words, “i’m yours forever and you mine.”

The couple that night also posted a photo of themselves laying in bed with Moran showing off her engagement ring. The photo was captioned, “we some fighters and some shooters.” Moran is shown holding up four fingers — the same number of shots fired at Smith.

Doherty and Moran posting to Facebook shortly after Cheryl Smith's murder (Facebook)

Doherty and Moran posted to Facebook shortly after Cheryl Smith’s murder (Facebook)

Police then arrested Doherty and Moran as they were attempting to leave their hotel room.

According to a report from Providence CBS affiliate WPRI-TV, several experts testified during Doherty’s trial that the defendant suffered from “PTSD from substance abuse disorder and either bipolar type 1 or schizophrenia.” As a condition of his sentence, Doherty is required to continue mental health counseling for the duration of his incarceration.

“New Year’s Day, for many, typically symbolizes new beginnings and renewed promise for the year ahead. This was not the case for Cheryl Smith when she was senselessly murdered by the defendant,” AG Neronha said in a statement. “In this case and so many others, the availability of illegal firearms has led directly to terrible tragedies; harming good people and taking lives prematurely. The punishment handed down today will not return Cheryl to her family and friends, but it is my hope that this significant sentence will bring them a measure of justice.”

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.