A jury has found Keith Smith guilty of fatally stabbing his wife, Jacquelyn Smith, and blaming panhandlers in December 2018 after less than two days of deliberations.
Originally scheduled as a two-week trial, the prosecution and defense attorney Natalie Finegar presented their closing arguments after less than a week on Dec. 8. The following day, the jury announced their verdict, finding Smith guilty of first-degree murder.
“There were no panhandlers. It was all made up,” the prosecutor said during her closing arguments on Wednesday, saying that Smith’s daughter, Valeria, testified that her father coached her on what to say to police.
Jacquelyn’s murder became national news after her death on Dec. 1, 2018. Smith told Baltimore Police Department investigators that he, Jacquelyn, and Valeria, were leaving the American Legion after celebrating Valeria’s birthday and were taking her home when two panhandlers, one of whom was holding a baby, asked them for money at a stop sign on the 1000 block of Valley Street.
Smith claimed a woman was holding a sign asking for help to feed her baby and Jacquelyn handed her $10. A man then came to thank Jacquelyn but stabbed her five times in the chest, stealing her necklace while the woman stole Jacquelyn’s wallet.
The defendant and Valeria grieved before the community that was shocked when investigators revealed the story was false. Instead, police learned that cell phone data placed the Smiths in Druid Hill Park for an unaccounted 15 minutes, a location Smith never told police during a drive of the family’s route.
“The evidence shows that Keith Smith murdered Jacquelyn Smith, brutally, in Druid Hill Park,” the prosecutor said.
Valeria testified that she was high on heroin when she saw her father plunge a knife, faced down in his hand, into Jacquelyn’s chest, and then tell her the panhandler story they would both share with police in multiple interviews.
Valeria accepted a plea offer in September 2019 for accessory to first-degree murder after the fact, requiring her to testify in Smith’s trial. Her sentencing is currently scheduled for Dec. 13.
Smith’s story raised more questions than answers as police learned he had attempted to purchase plane tickets to Cuba, Canada, and the Virgin Islands before deciding to flee to Mexico with his daughter after realizing he needed a passport. Valeria documented their trip in a journal, citing that she was “officially on the run” and “didn’t want to go to prison because of someone else’s actions.”
The two were arrested about 20 miles from the border in Combes, Texas.
A sentencing date for Smith has not yet been scheduled, according to the Maryland Judiciary website.