Baltimore Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn sentenced Valeria Smith to five years in prison Monday for helping her father cover up the murder of Smith’s stepmother with an elaborate ruse blaming two fictitious, knife-wielding panhandlers.
Smith, 31, pleaded guilty in 2019 to acting as an accessory after the murder of her stepmother. She testified last week as the prosecutor’s key witness in the murder trial of her father, Keith Smith. He was convicted of the killing Thursday and awaits sentencing.
The case dates to December 2018 when the Smith family — Keith, Valeria and Jacquelyn — left an American Legion hall shortly before midnight after a night celebrating. On their drive home, Jacquelyn Smith, 54, an engineer at Aberdeen Proving Ground, was fatally stabbed in the car.
[ ‘I am officially on the run’: Woman testifies she followed her father’s instructions to blame wife’s killing on Baltimore panhandlers ]
In an elaborate ruse, Keith and Valeria Smith claimed two panhandlers with a baby approached the car and asked for money at a stop sign in a desolate area of East Baltimore. There were no witnesses. According to their tale, when Jacquelyn handed $10 to the panhandlers, one snatched her necklace, stole the wallet from her lap and then stabbed her repeatedly.
She died of wounds to her heart and lungs.
In the days after, the father and daughter gave tearful interviews to homicide detectives and news reporters. Detectives, however, became suspicious by inconsistencies in their story. Police tracked signals to Valeria Smith’s cellphone that night and discovered the family made an undisclosed detour to Druid Hill Park.
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As detectives closed in three months after the murder, Keith and Valeria Smith made a run for Mexico. They were arrested at a gas station outside Brownsville, Texas, about 20 miles from the border.
“Today is the craziest day of my life. I am officially on the run,” Valeria Smith wrote in her diary; she read her entries at trial last week. “I feel so sad I won’t be able to see my children … This is so f---ed up … this is not the time to panic.”
[ An ‘elaborate cover-up’ unravels: Jury finds Keith Smith guilty of murdering his wife, blaming panhandlers ]
Valeria admitted to her role in the cover up. With her guilty plea, she admitted to ditching Jacquelyn’s pocketbook to support their story of a robbery and to lying to police. During her father’s murder trial last week, she told jurors her stepmother was dozing in the front seat when Keith Smith attacked her without warning.
She testified that her father told her she was present — therefore responsible. He coached her on how they would get away with the murder.
“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 last week. “When she gave them the money, they stabbed her.”
The crime of accessory after murder brings a maximum 10 years in prison. But Valeria was sentenced to five years in prison with three years of probation under her deal with prosecutors. Keith Smith faces life in prison; he’s to be sentenced Feb. 28.
Valeria has been locked up nearly three years while awaiting her sentence. According to court records and her trial testimony, she used heroin, suffered bipolar disorder and spent time as a patient in a psychiatric hospital.