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Husband, stepdaughter charged in woman's death they blamed on panhandler awaiting extradition from Texas

Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh and acting police commissioner Michael Harrison talk about the arrest of Keith Smith, 52, and his daughter, Valeria Smith, 28. Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video

Nearly three months after Jacquelyn Smith’s husband and stepdaughter gave tearful accounts of her last act of kindness, the pair appeared Monday in a Texas courtroom where they were arraigned on charges in her death.

As the father and daughter neared the U.S.-Mexico border, Baltimore Police notified authorities in Texas of warrants charging Keith Smith, 52, and his daughter, Valeria Smith, 28, in Jacquelyn Smith’s death. They were arrested Sunday in Combes, Texas, and are held without bail. They are expected to be extradited to Baltimore by March 20.

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The father and daughter told police Jacquelyn Smith, 54, had been stabbed in East Baltimore Dec. 1 after rolling down her car window to give money to a panhandler. Police on Monday released few additional details about the case, and did not reveal what evidence led to the arrest more than three months after the killing.

Acting Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, in a meeting with The Baltimore Sun editorial board Monday, said the timing of the arrest was affected by the Smiths’ proximity to the Mexico border, but that the case wasn’t rushed.

“I can say that being notified that they were in Texas certainly added to the evidence we already had to convince us that it was not the homeless person, [and] probable cause existed that it was more than likely their involvement,” Harrison said. “I think there’s enough evidence to support that this still would have been the outcome.”

Harrison said he could not reveal details supporting the arrest warrant because he did not want to compromise the case’s chances in court. He also said the investigation was still ongoing.

“There are still other pieces of evidence to collect and perhaps other witnesses that we have to speak with,” Harrison said.

Detectives presented a 15-page statement of probable cause to a court commissioner in Baltimore. In addition to murder, the father and daughter are each being charged with conspiracy to commit murder, assault, and conspiracy to commit assault, as well as a dangerous weapon charge. The statement of probable cause is not yet public.

The Smiths were arraigned before a Cameron County, Texas, district judge Monday morning, said Lt. Joe Elizardi, a spokesman for the Cameron County Sheriff’s Office. The deadline to extradite the Smiths to Maryland has been extended five days, to March 20, at the request of officials in Baltimore, but Elizardi did not have additional details.

It’s not the first time Keith Smith finds himself in trouble with the law. Two decades ago, he robbed the old First Union Bank on York Road in Timonium three times — the first in December 1999. He carried a pellet gun, which the tellers thought was a real firearm, according to a Baltimore County police report. He ordered tellers to the ground, then hopped the counter and emptied the money drawers into a black bag. Smith pleaded guilty to robbery with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Jacquelyn Smith’s killing drew national attention — and now anger from local officials who said the couple used Baltimore’s violence epidemic as a cover-up to the murder.

The night of Jacquelyn Smith’s killing in December, Keith Smith had said the couple had been dancing at the American Legion on Madison Street where they had brought his daughter to celebrate her 28th birthday. According to police, Valeria Smith’s birthday is in October.

Keith Smith had given numerous media interviews in which he spoke of a woman who appeared to be holding a baby and had a cardboard sign that said “Please Help me feed my Baby.” Although Smith said he was reluctant to open the window late at night, his wife “felt moved to give her some money.”

Smith had even vowed to get a law passed in his wife’s memory banning panhandling, though the Baltimore City Code already prohibited panhandling to motorists.

“Something needs to be done,” Smith said previously. “There are some desperate people. They don’t need help; they’re trying to hurt you.”

Jacquelyn Smith’s brother, Marcel Trisvan of Havre de Grace, said he has long suspected Keith Smith in his sister’s death because his story about the supposed panhandlers didn’t add up.

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“It never made sense. I told [detectives] from the very beginning there are no suspects out there,” he said.

Bishop Roger Tatuem, senior pastor at Helping Hands Ministries in Churchville, where the Smiths had been active, said he was shocked by the arrests.

“I’m surprised, I really am,” Tatuem said. “We had no idea or indication that he had the capacity to do something like that.”

Both Keith and Jacquelyn Smith led the church’s Christian education classes. They rewrote the curriculum for the course. Keith Smith participated in a prison ministry and would travel once a month to minister to prisoners in Hagerstown.

Tandra Ridgley, an Aberdeen resident, attended church with the Smiths and said she knew Keith Smith for about three years. She said she’s not prepared to cast judgment on “Brother Keith” until more facts come to light.

“I am waiting to see the case unfold,” she said. “Personally I never ever got that type of vibe from him.”

Baltimore Sun reporters Tim Prudente and Sarah Meehan contributed to this article.

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