BALTIMORE — A Baltimore jury found Keith Tyrone Smith guilty Thursday of first-degree murder for stabbing his wife to death three years ago while they drove through East Baltimore and blaming the attack on a homeless couple panhandling for money.
Jurors deliberated parts of two days before convicting Smith, 55, of Aberdeen, of murdering Jacquelyn Smith, his wife. His trial began last week in Baltimore Circuit Court and continued for five days with testimony from detectives who unraveled Smith’s tale about midnight, knife-wielding panhandlers on a desolate city street corner.
“Think about that. A panhandler just randomly stabs her five times?” Assistant State’s Attorney Shaundria Hanna told the jury in closing arguments.
Keith Smith told police he was driving his wife and adult daughter, Valeria, home after celebrating Valeria’s birthday at an American Legion hall. Jacquelyn passed $10 out the window to a couple panhandling with a baby, he told police, but they snatched Jacquelyn’s necklace, stole the wallet from her lap and stabbed her with a kitchen knife. He drove his wife to the hospital where she died.
Keith Smith took steps to back up the story. He and Valeria — she pleaded guilty last year to acting as his accessory — ditched Jacquelyn’s wallet. With his wife fatally wounded, Keith Smith placed a distraught phone call to 911. He drove his wife to the hospital, but arrived too late for doctors to save her.
In the days afterward, the father and daughter gave grief-stricken interviews to news reporters. He broke down crying before homicide detectives. Keith urged officials to outlaw panhandling in the streets of Baltimore so no one else fell victim like his wife.
Three months after the murder, the father and daughter rented a car and drove for Mexico. Texas troopers arrested them 20 miles before the border.
Cellphone signals placed the Smiths in Druid Hill Park for about 15 minutes at the time of the murder. In his interviews with detectives, Keith Smith went over the deadly night in exacting detail; he made no mention of a detour in the park.
Investigators reviewed footage from 30 surveillance cameras along the Smiths’ supposed route that night.
“The defendant’s vehicle and panhandlers are nowhere to be found,” Hanna told the jury. “There’s no panhandlers; it was all made up.”
Crime scene technicians found blood spattered inside the window where Jacquelyn sat. But Keith claimed she rolled down her window to hand the money.
The prosecutor’s key witness, Valeria, testified against her father. She told the jury he drove them into the park with Jacquelyn dozing in the front passenger seat and stabbed her. “He waited until she was defenseless to take her life,” said Hanna, the prosecutor.
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 told the jury. “When she gave them the money, they stabbed her.”
Keith Smith declined to testify at trial. His attorney did not present a defense case. Natalie Finegar, his attorney, told the jury that inconsistencies in Keith Smith’s story don’t prove he killed his wife. She told jurors they can’t trust Valeria.
The daughter struck a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to acting as an accessory after her stepmother’s murder and to testify against her father in exchange for five years in prison. Her crime usually brings a maximum 10 years.
She’s scheduled to be sentenced Monday and could be released on parole.
“Show me anything in this case other than her [Valeria’s] word,” Finegar told the jury.
As an alternate juror, Clifton Spencer listened to all the evidence and arguments but was dismissed before deliberations. He said he would have been persuaded to find Smith guilty based on the 15 unexplained minutes in Druid Hill Park.
Smith placed calls to travel agents trying to book one-way flights to Cuba, the Virgin Islands or Canada, but he didn’t have a passport.
“Him taking the time to make those calls to the travel agency, that’s another red flag,” the alternate juror said.