Valeria Smith was hungry for stardom.
There she was on Instagram, posting about her publishing company. There on YouTube, recording in the studio. There, meeting then-Mayor Sheila Dixon.
On Thursday, however, her downfall concluded in Baltimore Circuit Court with the 28-year-old pleading guilty to acting as an accessory after the murder of her stepmother. With her plea, Valeria Smith admitted to witnessing her stepmother’s murder, to blaming the crime on a panhandler and to helping her father — the alleged killer — run for Mexico.
“You’re pleading guilty because you are in fact guilty?” Baltimore Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn asked.
“Yes," Smith said.
The hearing brought a dramatic turn from her public appearance late last year, when she clung to her father, cried and offered up lies about an act of charity turned deadly.
Jacquelyn Smith, 54, a mechanical engineer at Aberdeen Proving Ground, was repeatedly stabbed in her chest and killed last December. In the days afterward, Keith and Valeria Smith told a shocking tale. They claimed Jacquelyn had handed money out of the car window to a young woman panhandling with a baby. Then a man rushed up, snatched at her purse and stabbed her in the chest, they said.
Their story incited fear of the homeless and stoked outrage across Baltimore and beyond. Oprah Winfrey weighed in, saying she would think twice before giving. Behind the scenes, however, homicide detectives were unraveling the ruse.
Detectives recovered footage from 27 surveillance cameras and said they found no sign of the Smiths’ car that night in the desolate stretch of East Baltimore where the stabbing supposedly occurred. Instead, cellphone signals placed the Smiths in Druid Hill Park for 15 unexplained minutes, the detectives wrote in court records.
They wrote that Keith Smith’s close friend told them Smith had asked his brother for help to murder his wife. As the investigation heated up, they wrote, Keith searched for foreign countries where he could travel without a passport.
In March, police arrested Keith and Valeria Smith at a South Texas gas station. They were 20 miles from the Mexican border. Valeria had dyed her hair blonde.
On Thursday, she wore a pink prison jumpsuit and braids. She said little beyond answering the judge’s questions but admitted to the elaborate cover-up.
After her stepmother’s murder, she ditched Jacquelyn’s pocketbook at a bus stop. She lied to police and to news reporters and planned her getaway.
“Valeria Smith accompanied, aided and supported Keith Smith on his attempt to flee the country,” Assistant State’s Attorney Patrick Seidel told the judge.
Smith is scheduled to be sentenced in January. She could face as much as 10 years in prison. With their murder case ongoing against her father, prosecutors filed her plea agreement under seal. It remains hidden whether they have agreed upon her sentence or if she will be required to testify against her father.
Keith Smith served about six years in prison in the early 2000s for robbing a Timonium bank with a pellet gun. He now stands accused of stabbing to death his wife. Police believe she had discussed divorcing him.
In April, a Harford County judge stripped him of his authority over his wife’s estate. He’s scheduled to stand trial next month for her murder.
Jacquelyn Smith’s older brother, Marcel Trisvan, said his family, including her two grown sons, is still reeling with grief.
“It comes in waves,” he said, after Thursday’s hearing. "I’m glad that they came to some form of justice, but there’s not much vindication.”
A statement by Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby gave a nod to the unusual nature of the case.
“This murder impacted our city and Jacquelyn’s family in ways unimaginable,” she said, “and my hope is today’s results brings the family one step closer towards healing for their daughter, sister, friend and loved one.”
Michelle Kenney spent hours outside the courtroom waiting for justice for her friend Jacquelyn. Afterward, Kenney said, she thought 10 years in prison would be too lenient.
Valeria Smith told the judge she had been a patient in a mental hospital in 2012. She also said she was meeting with a psychiatrist in prison.
Smith had recorded rap songs, worked as a boutique cashier and founded her own publishing company, Purple Press LLC. Troy Jones, of East Baltimore, has said she was to publish his jailhouse memoir. In some of her last posts, she touts the upcoming release of her new song or an album. She called it: Shalavou — Egyptian Goddess Blood.
Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.