Jacquelyn Trisvane Smith’s husband seemingly had everyone fooled about her shocking murder.
Keith Tyrone Smith formulated an elaborate ruse that pinned her killing on a pair of East Baltimore panhandlers and repeated this tearful tale again and again, to news reporters and police detectives.
He played the part of a grieving spouse during television interviews, and sat in the front row of his wife’s funeral.
But his story unraveled as homicide detectives picked up on inconsistencies and prosecutors highlighted those details during his trial in December. A jury found Smith guilty of premeditated murder.
The investigators shared a moment of celebration Monday with Jacquelyn Smith’s loved ones in the corridor of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, moments after Keith Smith, 55, was sentenced to life in prison.
“This will never bring her back, but we are elated and we feel that justice was served,” said Yvonne Saab, Jacquelyn Smith’s older sister, after the hearing.
In court, Circuit Judge Jennifer Schiffer lamented that Smith exploited Jacquelyn’s trust by stabbing her in the chest five times as “she peacefully dozed in the passenger’s seat” of their car, blamed her killing on “the most vulnerable people in society” and made a dash for the Mexican border.
“I have never seen facts that showed more premeditation, willfulness and intent than this crime,” Schiffer said.
She recited evidence presented during his trial about the killing and the coverup.
“The crime for which the defendant was convicted was the reason the maximum sentence for murder was created,” the judge added.
Saab read statements from a handful of relatives to explain how her killing had left them with a devastating void. Family members described the 54-year-old electrical engineer at Aberdeen Proving Ground as a kind, compassionate woman and doting mother who raised two boys to become successful young men.
Jacquelyn’s mother, Anna Trisvane, wrote that it was no coincidence that her daughter was born on the Fourth of July because she was bright and colorful like fireworks. It pains her to realize she’ll never hear her daughter’s voice or see her bright smile again, Trisvane wrote.
“I will never forgive him,” Trisvane wrote of Keith Smith.
Kendall Alexander Hood, Jacquelyn oldest son, wrote that he has endured panic attacks and night terrors following his mother’s murder. He described his mother’s killer as “a monster who she trusted,” and shed light on the additional pain his family endured because of Keith Smith’s ruse.
“I feel ashamed that my aunt had to pay for my mother’s funeral out of her pocket while the murderer sat in the front row,” Hood wrote.
Doienne Saab wrote about the milestones her “Auntie Jackie” will miss, and how she’s wary of the people who come into her life because of the way Smith took advantage of Jacquelyn’s trust.
Smith appeared at his sentencing by video from jail. He apologized to Jacquelyn’s family but maintained he was innocent.
His attorney, Natalie Finegar, asked Schiffer to render a punishment less than the maximum, focusing on her client’s faith and involvement in his church before his arrest. Finegar said Smith had a history of drug and alcohol abuse and said that his release after six years on a previous 12-year sentence for robbery with a deadly weapon indicated he was capable of doing well in prison.
In a statement following the sentence, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby lauded the diligence of the prosecutor and the detectives on the case and touted that “justice was served” for a “horrific attack.” Mosby said her office’s victim advocates would continue to support Jacquelyn Smith’s family.
In court, Assistant State’s Attorney Shaundria Hanna, who prosecuted the case, said Smith not only “manipulated the hearts and minds” of his wife’s family members but of a city and a nation that became consumed by his false narrative. She noted that he involved his daughter, Valeria Smith, who had been using drugs and “who he knew would be defenseless.”
In exchange for a lighter prison sentence, Valeria Smith agreed to plead guilty to acting as an accessory after the fact of her stepmother’s murder and testify against her father. Valeria Smith, 31, was the prosecution’s key witness at trial; her testimony helped prosecutors expose her father’s elaborate cover-up and provided an eyewitness account of the killing. She has served almost three of five years of her prison sentence.
Having gravely wounded his wife, Keith Smith made a distraught 911 call. He took her to the hospital but not in time for doctors to save her. He and Valeria ditched Jacquelyn’s wallet to support their story. He cried during an interview with homicide detectives, shed tears with his daughter while talking to reporters and demanded Baltimore outlaw panhandling.
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Valeria recounted from the witness stand the story he told her to repeat, and described their race to reach Mexico.
Smith’s fictitious story about knife-wielding panhandlers stoked unfounded fears about people experiencing homelessness, leading to concerns the crime would provoke confrontations. The tale garnered national attention and outrage; Oprah Winfrey even commented on the tragedy.
Detectives’ suspicions grew as the story spread. Police would never find evidence of panhandlers on the street corner — no knife, no cardboard sign. Smith first told detectives he didn’t see the weapon, then said it was a kitchen knife. He said the woman’s coat was brown and then blue. Blood was spattered on the inside of the car window despite Smith claiming the window was down.
Investigators doubted anyone would beg for money on a little trafficked street corner rather than a busy thoroughfare. None of the surveillance cameras in the area of the supposed attack turned up footage of Smith’s car.
When detectives confronted Smith with evidence that Valeria’s cellphone traced to Druid Hill Park, he brought up a previously unmentioned detour on the way home.
After that interview, Smith moved to Florida and changed cellphones. He sent Valeria Smith a new phone through the mail.
Together, they made a break from Maryland for the southern border three months after Jacquelyn Smith’s murder. Texas state troopers arrested the father and daughter 20 minutes from the border, after about 1,770 miles on the run.