Keith Smith was tripped up by the details in his panhandler killer hoax, Baltimore prosecutor tells jury

Keith Tyrone Smith had answers to all the questions after his wife was fatally stabbed as they drove through East Baltimore in the middle of the night.

He told police where: at the stop sign of East Chase and Valley streets. He told police who: a man in a blue hoodie and woman in a brown coat; they had a cardboard sign asking for money. He told police how: the man stabbed his wife, Jacquelyn, repeatedly in her chest and the two ran in the alley. The woman carried a baby.


But it was the specific details of his story that would trip up Smith, exposing his hoax and revealing him to be the killer, the prosecutor told a Baltimore jury Thursday.

“Keith Smith, the defendant, will tell this story over and over and over again. So much so, the facts started to change and inconsistencies became apparent,” Assistant State’s Attorney Shaundria Hanna said.


Prosecutors began presenting their case Thursday in the murder trial of Smith. The 55-year-old Aberdeen man is accused of killing his wife Dec. 1, 2018 — she was stabbed repeatedly, in her heart and lungs — and of covering up his crime with the ruse about knife-wielding panhandlers in the middle of the night.

He faces first-degree murder and weapons charges; the maximum penalty is life in prison.

His defense attorney offered no alternative theory for the murder of Jacquelyn Smith, 54, an engineer at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Rather, his attorney, Natalie Finegar, urged jurors to listen closely for any evidence. Inconsistencies in his story don’t prove he killed his wife, she told them.

“We don’t know what happened. When you look at the evidence,” Finegar said, “you’re just left with more questions.”

Keith Smith’s daughter, Valeria, 31, admitted in September 2019 to helping her father cover up the crime. She pleaded guilty to acting as an accessory after her stepmother’s murder and faces 10 years in prison. She rode in the backseat of the Smiths’ white Audi when Jacquelyn was attacked.

Valeria admitted to ditching her stepmother’s purse at a bus stop to support the panhandler story. She’s to be sentenced Dec. 13 — after her father’s trial.

Three months after Jacquelyn’s murder, investigators were closing in on the the father and daughter. Keith rented a car, picked up Valeria in Baltimore and the two headed south.

Authorities sent out an alert for the pair. Troopers arrested them at a gas station in the town of Combes, Texas — 20 minutes from the Mexican border.


“It just amazes me,” said Patrick Quill, the Combes police chief, after the arrests. “They drove how far from Maryland? It was very, very lucky.”

Under her plea deal, Valeria Smith is to testify against her father next week. She wrote the judge in her case about her state of mind during the murder.

“I was strung out on drugs and scared for my life. My father made me leave the state,” she wrote.

She also suffered bipolar disorder, her defense attorney wrote the judge.

The father and daughter’s alleged hoax attracted national attention and incited fear of the city’s homeless. The two sold their story with tearful interviews and public appearances. Keith Smith implored city leaders to protect other families from those who panhandle for money on the streets of Baltimore.

Smith had told police he was driving home with Jacqueline and Valeria after celebrating Valeria’s birthday at an American Legion hall. Jacquelyn passed $10 out the window to the panhandlers, he told police, but they snatched her necklace, stole the purse from her lap and stabbed her repeatedly.


Then he drove his wife to the hospital where she died. In the courtroom Thursday, prosecutors played his distraught 911 call.

“You got to help me. They stabbed my wife, man!” he told the operator.

He was headed for the emergency room at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, and trying to stanch the bleeding.

“Are you putting pressure on the wound, sir?”

“Yeah, I got towel,” Smith said. “Oh my God, man.”

He was crying and inaudible at times. Crime scene technicians found no fingerprints of a suspect on the car. Detectives searched homeless shelters but found no one matching the description of the panhandlers with the baby.


Police searched to the intersection that night and returned the next morning, according to testimony Thursday.

“Were you able to locate a crime scene?” asked Hanna, the prosecutor.

“No,” Sgt. Daniel Santos said.

“Did you locate any evidence?”


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“Did you see any panhandlers?”



Later, they drove Keith and Valeria through East Baltimore to search for surveillance cameras that might have captured the Smiths’ car passing through.

“After combing through 10′s and 10′s of cameras, I believe it was 30, they were nowhere to be seen,” Hanna told the jury.

The prosecutor then asked the detective: “Why did you want to go over the route?”

“We had to try and verify his story,” Santos said.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Jennifer Schiffer dismissed two jurors Thursday, one for coronavirus exposure and another for coming across news coverage of the case. That leaves two alternate jurors for the remainder of the two-week trial.