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Baltimore 'panhandler' killing: Documents allege Keith Smith asked brother to 'get rid of' his wife

When his wife of four years began talking about divorce, Keith Tyrone Smith sought help, according to police charging documents viewed by The Baltimore Sun.

Only the 52-year-old Aberdeen man wasn’t seeking marriage advice — he wanted help to kill his wife, a friend told police.

Charging documents for Keith and Valeria Smith »

Baltimore police wrote that Smith’s close friend, Donnell Morgan, told detectives that Smith had asked his own brother for assistance in the plot.

“Keith Smith asked him to get rid of Jacquelyn,” Morgan told them. Morgan said he was told this by Vick Smith — and said he interpreted that to mean Keith wanted Vick “to kill/murder her.”

Jacquelyn Smith was stabbed five times in her chest and killed in December, and the crime shocked the conscience of Baltimore residents. Her husband and his grown daughter, Valeria Smith, claimed the murder happened during an act of kindness: that Jacquelyn had handed $10 to a panhandler just before she was attacked.

The story drew widespread attention and stoked fears of the homeless in the city. In charging documents, detectives wrote of how a three-month investigation led them to charge her husband and stepdaughter with murder. The Baltimore Police Department said Thursday that the Warrant Apprehension Task Force would be bringing the Smiths back to Baltimore on March 20.

The documents offer no explanation of how Keith and Valeria allegedly carried out the stabbing. Nor do detectives make mention of a knife or any evidence of the gruesome act itself. Instead, they offer evidence raising doubt about the story of the panhandler and describe how they discovered Keith Smith’s attempts to run for the border.

Acting Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said this week that the case was strong while acknowledging that police wanted a judge to sign off an arrest warrant after detectives learned the pair were nearing the border.

Police in Florida said Thursday that Keith Smith moved to Winter Haven, Fla., last month where he rented a house, where investigators executed a search and recovered evidence. On March 1, police said, Smith rented a car, prompting authorities to issue an alert for the vehicle in Texas.

The two were arrested Sunday near Mexico. They remain jailed in Texas and await extradition March 20 to Baltimore.

They have declined to see visitors and have made no phone calls while jailed, Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio said.

Suspicions began shortly after the death of Jacquelyn Smith, an electrical engineer at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Detectives wrote that Keith Smith and his daughter gave inconsistent accounts of the crime. The couple had been celebrating Valeria Smith’s birthday with her at an American Legion hall in West Baltimore. They were driving the 28-year-old home when they supposedly encountered a woman panhandling with a baby.

In one interview, Keith Smith told detectives that Jacquelyn gave the woman $10. And in moments, a man came up asking to thank Jacquelyn, but instead snatched her necklace and stabbed her.

Three days later, Smith was interviewed again by police. This time, however, he told police Jacquelyn was stabbed by the man while the woman was grabbing for Jacquelyn’s belongings, detectives wrote.

The detectives traced signals from Keith Smith’s cellphone and found he had stopped on the way home for 15 minutes in Druid Hill Park. Later, Keith Smith told police he had gotten lost and just didn’t want to admit it.

The detectives drove Keith and Valeria back to the American Legion hall to retrace their exact route home. They recovered footage from 27 surveillance cameras and found no sign of their car that night in the desolate stretch of East Baltimore where they claimed the stabbing happened.

“Thus contradicting Mr. and Ms. Smith’s report of the direction of travel,” detectives wrote.

Next they issued an alert to all the pawn shops in Maryland, but Jacquelyn Smith’s necklace and purse never turned up.

Ten days after she died, police discovered charges on her Visa card. They traced the purchases back to three unidentified boys who said they found the card in a Michael Kors clutch bag left at an East Baltimore bus stop. Detectives ruled out the boys as suspects, but they wrote that Keith Smith’s cellphone signals placed him near the bus stop.

On Feb. 8, detectives wiretapped Keith Smith’s phone. One day later, they wiretapped his daughter’s. Then they called Keith Smith back in for questions.

“Immediately upon completion of the interview,” they wrote, “Mr. Smith got in a rental truck and drove to Winter Haven, Florida, where he requested to be relocated by his job.”

Jacquelyn Smith’s brother previously told The Sun that Keith Smith told the family he was relocating to Florida.

Keith Smith moved from Maryland to Winter Haven on Feb. 12, Polk County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Sherrie M. Morgan said. He signed a yearlong lease at a modest home at 4030 Cypress Landing East on Feb. 21 and moved in the following day. Valeria Smith was believed to be living with him, Morgan said.

The detectives brought Valeria Smith back in, too. But during her questions, she asked for an attorney. The interview ended abruptly.

Then the detectives brought in Keith Smith’s brother, Vick. He was hungry, they wrote, so they gave him a breakfast platter before they began. Vick Smith told them that his brother had admitted trouble in their marriage. “Keith Smith advised him that the victim was talking about divorcing Keith,” the detectives wrote.

Police still had the wiretap on Keith Smith’s cellphone. And his brother called after leaving the police interview.

“I don’t want to talk because you know everything got ears now,” Vick Smith said.

Vick Smith did not immediately respond to a message left by The Sun. Online court records show no charges against him, and the documents charging Keith and Valeria don’t indicate that he took steps to help Keith in the alleged plot.

Reached Thursday evening at home, Morgan said he has known Keith Smith for 30 years and was the best man at the couple’s wedding.

“It breaks my heart,” he said, adding that he was not prepared to talk about the case.

On Feb. 27, Vick Smith was served a subpoena to testify before a grand jury. The next day, he called his brother and warned him of the subpoena, detectives wrote.

That same day, they wrote, Keith Smith began making getaway plans.

He sought a cash advance on his credit card. He tried to book one-way tickets to Cuba and Canada — but he didn’t have a passport, they wrote.

“Keith asked a search engine if a passport was needed to go to Jamaica,” they wrote, “and if there was a way to cross into Mexico without going through the border.”

Smith had rented a 2019 Toyota Camry through Enterprise in Haines City, Fla., on March 1, Morgan, with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, said. Smith drove the rental car south through Texas, where a “be on the lookout” alert was issued to law enforcement through the Department of Homeland Security the same day, she said.

The detectives issued a warrant for his arrest at 11:15 a.m. Sunday.

That very moment, Smith and his daughter were 20 minutes from the Mexican border.

tprudente@baltsun.com

twitter.com/Tim_Prudente

Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.

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