Capital Gazette wins special Pulitzer Prize citation for coverage of newsroom shooting that killed five

Husband, stepdaughter who were charged in killing originally blamed on panhandler are denied bail in Baltimore

The Baltimore Sun

Attorneys for Keith and Valeria Smith said Thursday that prosecutors have provided little evidence connecting their clients to the fatal stabbing of Keith’s wife in December, which they claimed was done by a panhandler.

Keith Smith, 52, and his daughter, Valeria, 28, recently traveled to Texas, just miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, where they were arrested and charged in Jacquelyn Smith’s death Dec. 1. They returned to Maryland with Baltimore police officers early Thursday morning, and both were denied bail the same day.

“Mr. Smith is always innocent until proven guilty. I haven’t seen anything yet that proves him guilty,” Keith Smith’s attorney, Natalie Finegar, said after the brief hearing.

Keith Smith appeared on a video feed with several other defendants before District Judge Joyce M. Baylor-Thompson.

Baylor-Thompson called Smith “an extreme flight risk” because he had gone to Texas and “an extreme risk to the community” based on the nature of the charges.

Valeria Smith also was denied bail at a separate hearing Thursday afternoon after her attorney sought to have her placed on home detention, where she would be monitored by authorities.

District Judge Rachel E. Skolnik denied her release “based on the nature of the charges, which are very serious.” The judge said she also believed Smith to be a flight risk.

Valeria Smith’s attorney, Brandon Mead, said prosecutors have presented little evidence against his client.

“There was zero direct evidence linking Ms. Smith with any crime. It’s really unfortunate that she’s been brandished as this criminal that’s fleeing, that’s going to Mexico when she’s clearly not that kind of person,” Mead said.

The statement of probable cause that detectives used to get warrants for their arrest is lengthy but not substantive, Mead said.

“Fifteen pages of fluff. Not a whole lot of direct evidence of any kind,” he told the judge.

Finegar also questioned the evidence in the case and said her client had been tried unfairly in the media, where assumptions are made based on allegations. The attention given to the case will make it difficult to pick a jury that will result in a fair trial, she said.

The evidence that has been included in the statement of probable cause has “a lot of questionable forensics,” and shows that detectives acknowledge that “they didn’t have any other suspects. They didn’t say they were sure these were the individuals.”

Melba Saunders, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office, declined to comment because the office does not comment on pending cases.

Included in the document was the Smiths’ story that all three were driving home after an evening of dancing when Jacquelyn Smith spotted a woman panhandling with a baby in East Baltimore and handed her money though the car window. Keith Smith has said a man who approached the car then grabbed Jacquelyn’s necklace and wallet before stabbing her through the open window.

The document also described the various efforts made by police to make an arrest. Detectives described how officers canvassed the area, talking to residents but never locating anyone matching the description of the suspects provided by Keith and Valeria Smith. They also attempted but were unable to locate other fingerprints inside the vehicle where Jacquelyn Smith was said to be killed.

Detectives also detailed how they chased a tip that the killer was a man who went by the name “Baby J” but were able to determine using surveillance video that he was in another location.

The document includes a comment Keith Smith allegedly made to his brother about wanting to kill his wife, cellphone evidence putting Keith and Valeria Smith in Druid Hill Park the same night as the murder, and Keith Smith’s attempts to locate countries where he could travel without a passport as the investigation heated up.

Mead said the fact that his client was traveling to Mexico with her father does not connect her to the murder.

“You get a chance to go to Mexico, you say yes. Let’s take a little family vacation, some R and R. I don’t see there being any criminal element,” Mead said.

The evidence is “very circumstantial. There’s no direct evidence that she did anything criminal.”

Mead said he spoke to his client Thursday before the hearing and found her to be a polite young woman with a supportive family.

The judge also ordered a risk and medical assessment for Valeria Smith. . She had been living with her mother for the past three years, and she previously worked as a telemarketer but quit when she became pregnant. She most recently worked as a cashier at a boutique and was working on her publishing company Purple Press LLC, according to a pretrial services employee.

Full coverage: The killing of Jacquelyn Smith »

At Keith Smith’s hearing, a pretrial services agent said Smith provided his last address in Florida where he told officials he lived alone. He was unemployed after having resigned from a job at U.S. Lumber.

The pretrial services employees also noted Smith’s two prior criminal convictions related to armed robberies. Smith also had received probation before judgment for a DUI and a marijuana-related offense.

Authorities said Keith Smith had relocated from Baltimore to Winter Haven, Fla., on Feb. 12. On March 1, he rented a 2019 Toyota Camry and was traveling south through Texas with Valeria Smith. An alert was sent out through the Department of Homeland Security, and they were arrested by Texas troopers as they were pulling out of a gas station in Combes.

The Smiths remained at the Cameron County Detention Center in South Texas until Wednesday, when about 9:30 a.m. they were escorted out of the facility without incident, Sheriff Omar Lucio said. They arrived in Baltimore at 12:25 a.m. Thursday and were transported to the Central Booking Intake Facility, according to the Baltimore Police Department.

tprudente@baltsun.com

twitter.com/tim_prudente

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
66°