Prosecutors have abandoned a murder case against an East Baltimore woman accused of stabbing her stepmother to death and blaming it on a panhandler, choosing instead to charge Valeria Smith with being an accessory, her defense attorney says.
Defense attorney Brandon Mead said Smith has been indicted in Baltimore Circuit Court on one charge of accessory after the crime.
“We’ve basically said all along that Ms. Smith’s role in this was greatly exaggerated initially by the state,” Mead said.
In March, Valeria Smith, 28, and her father, Keith Smith, 53, were arrested at a South Texas truck stop near the Mexican border. Authorities charged them with a crime that had shocked the conscience of Baltimore residents.
Jacquelyn Smith, a mechanical engineer at Aberdeen Proving Ground, was stabbed in her chest and killed. Her husband and stepdaughter held a tearful news conference, saying she was killed during an act of charity.
The father and daughter claimed they were driving together through East Baltimore when they encountered a woman panhandling with a baby. They said Jacquelyn Smith handed the woman $10, but a man rushed up, snatched at her purse and stabbed her.
The story drew widespread attention and stoked fears of the homeless in the city. Celebrity Oprah Winfrey weighed in and wrote online, “This story struck my heart. I’ve done this a 1k times. But will think twice before ever doing again.”
Behind the scenes, however, detectives were becoming suspicious. They wrote in charging documents that they noticed inconsistencies in the pair’s stories.
Detectives recovered footage from 27 surveillance cameras and found no sign of the Smiths’ car that night in the desolate stretch of East Baltimore where they claimed the stabbing occurred. Instead, cellphone signals placed the Smiths in Druid Hill Park for 15 unexplained minutes, the detectives wrote.
Detectives wrote that Keith Smith’s close friend told them Smith had asked his own brother for help in murdering his wife. As the investigation heated up, they wrote, Keith searched for foreign countries where he could travel without a passport.
Keith and Valeria Smith were arrested by Texas police 20 miles from the Mexican border. Initially, both father and daughter were charged with murder. Police and prosecutors, however, have offered no explanation for how and when the murder happened.
Keith Smith alone remains charged with the murder. In April, a Harford County judge stripped him of his authority over his wife’s estate.
Both father and daughter remain jailed awaiting trial.
Melba Saunders, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, declined to discuss the charges.
“This is an open and pending matter,” she said.