Crime and Courts

Man Who Claimed Panhandler Killed Wife Convicted of Murder

Keith Smith was convicted of first-degree murder after telling police that his wife, Jacquelyn, was killed while trying to give money to a panhandler in 2018

A Baltimore jury convicted a man of first-degree murder Thursday in the 2018 stabbing of his wife that he blamed on a panhandler.

Jurors deliberated about five hours over two days before convicting Keith Smith, 55, of Aberdeen, of murdering his wife, Jacquelyn Smith, The Baltimore Sun reported. He was also convicted of a weapons charge.

Keith Smith told police his wife, an engineer at an Army facility, was knifed by a man after handing $10 to a female panhandler who appeared to be holding a baby. Smith’s version of his wife’s slaying drew national attention, as he and his daughter, Valeria, gave tearful interviews. Oprah Winfrey, once a newscaster in Baltimore, tweeted that the tragic case would make her reconsider handing out cash to panhandlers.

But the story fell apart. Investigators reviewed footage from surveillance cameras along the Smiths’ supposed route that night.

“The defendant’s vehicle and panhandlers are nowhere to be found,” Assistant State’s Attorney Shaundria Hanna told jurors. “There’s no panhandlers; it was all made up.”

Keith Smith and his daughter were arrested in March 2019 in Texas during what police portrayed as a desperate dash to Mexico.

Earlier this week, jurors heard from Valeria Smith, who pleaded guilty in 2019 to acting as an accessory after her stepmother’s slaying, admitting to ditching her stepmother’s purse at a bus stop to support the panhandler story.

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She testified that her father drove them into the park with his wife dozing in the front passenger seat and stabbed her. Afterward, Keith Smith coached his daughter on what they would tell police.

“The story was supposed to be it was a homeless person, or two homeless people, that had a baby, and Mrs. Jacquelyn was supposed to feel sorry for them,” Valeria Smith told the jury. “When she gave them the money, they stabbed her.”

Keith Smith declined to testify. His attorney Natalie Finegar told the jury that inconsistencies in Keith Smith’s story do not prove he killed his wife. They also told the jury they can’t trust his daughter.

Under Valeria Smith's plea deal, she agreed to testify against her father in exchange for five years in prison. She would usually face 10 years. Her sentencing is set for Monday and she could be released on parole.

Sentencing for Keith Smith is set for Feb. 28. Prosecutors said they will ask for life in prison, the maximum penalty.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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