BALTIMORE — As the father-daughter duo of Keith and Valeria Smith return to Baltimore to face charges in the murder of Jacquelyn Smith, Keith’s wife, the charging documents filed by police catalogue an investigation that steadily refuted each detail of the sordid, sensational, but ultimately untrue tale of Jacquelyn’s death.
The original narrative piled on long-stoked fears and the poor reputation of the city, as Keith and Valeria said Jacquelyn was killed in the Johnston Square neighborhood as Jacquelyn attempted to give money to a woman panhandler with a baby before another male panhandler stabbed Jacquelyn repeatedly and stole her wallet, phone and necklace. The trio then rushed to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where Jacquelyn succumbed to her injuries from the vicious attack. Three days later, the medical examiner would officially rule Jacquelyn’s death a homicide due to five stab wounds to the chest, and an additional stab wound to her right arm.
But as the Homicide Detectives’ investigation unfurled, nearly each detail and stage in the story of the murder grew flimsy or false, eventually leading police to indict the car’s two other occupants for Jacquelyn Smith’s death.
During initial questioning, Keith and Valeria said they had been out with Jacquelyn celebrating Valeria’s birthday with food, drinks, and dancing at the American Legion Hall in the city’s Madison Park Neighborhood on Nov. 30, 2018. After staying for about an hour, they left shortly before midnight. As Valeria provided directions, they found their car in the 1000 block of Valley Street, where the murderous encounter enfolded. After briefly giving chase to the attackers, Keith then rushed his wife to Johns Hopkins, where she eventually died.
But early on, doubts emerged. After speaking with Keith and Valeria in the early morning hours of Dec. 1, 2018, detectives went to the 1000 block of Valley Street to investigate, but they were unable to find a crime scene, evidence of the attack, surveillance footage, or witnesses. They returned in the day, learning through interviews that panhandlers do not frequent the corner, nor was evidence spotted on this trip. The block had little foot or vehicle traffic, and many houses were vacant, contradicting the common knowledge that panhandlers tend to congregate in high traffic areas.
Police then retrieved the 2012 Audi A7 owned by Keith that the family was driving on the night of the murder, taking it to the crime lab for processing. Blood was found in the front passenger area, but the only latent print police pulled was from Keith.
Following the detail that the man who stabbed Jacquelyn also stole her wallet, cellphone, and necklace, the police’s Pawn Shop Unit contacted area pawn vendors to look out for the stolen goods. The unit also combed the online pawn database, where they could not find the jewelry.
Police did confirm the family had been at the American Legion Hall earlier in the evening on Nov. 30, leaving when they claimed to. Footage also confirmed the Audi pulling up to Hopkins Hospital not long after.
When Keith and Valeria came in for additional questioning on Dec. 4, their story began to shift. This time their accounts said Jacquelyn was stabbed as she gave the woman panhandler money, saying the woman also stole Jacquelyn’s wallet, not the male attacker. After this interview, police took Keith and Valeria to the American Legion Hall and asked them to retrace their route to the Valley Street block where Jacquelyn was stabbed. Once this route was established, police reviewed footage from 27 CCTV cameras from the areas the car supposedly traversed, failing to find Keith’s Audi in any of it, contradicting the story of their travel. Footage from East Chase Street, a block north of Valley Street, did not show any activity around the time of the alleged stabbing, nor the presence of Keith’s car.
Police then targeted Keith and Valeria’s electronic data, getting signed consent forms and then warrants to search GPS information from the Audi’s computer – which provided no coordinates from the night of the murder – and cellphone and Google account data – which contradicted aspects of their story. Most glaringly, cell phone data showed that after leaving the American Legion, Valeria’s phone was in Druid Hill Park, near the Maryland Zoo for roughly 15 minutes, a stop neither Keith nor his daughter mentioned. Google data laid out a different path than the pair originally described to detectives, as well.
On Dec. 11, police were informed one of Jacquelyn’s Visa cards was being used for various charges. Police interviewed three male juveniles who were not considered suspects. They said they had found the card in a Michael Kors clutch, which police said was owned by Jacquelyn, at a bus stop on Caroline Street and Madison Avenue, along the path Keith Smith drove, according to his cellphone data.
Upon another round of questioning, the story of the murder shifted again. This time Keith said the female panhandler wore a blue jacket, but in his initial telling he said she was wearing a brown jacket. When asked about the phone GPS data that showed the car had been in Druid Hill Park, Keith said he had gotten lost but did not want to admit it. He also said they sat in the car in the park and perused cell phone photos from their previous stop at the American Legion Hall.
Immediately following the interview, Keith got into a rental truck and headed to Winter Haven, Fla., where he had requested a relocation by his job. The same day, Valeria was also brought in again for questioning, initially waiving her right to an attorney. When asked about the Druid Hill Park stop, she said they were never in the park, and shortly thereafter, she requested an attorney, and the interview ended.
“We haven't seen any of this evidence yet, and there are a lot of questionable forensics that are included in the Statement of Probable Cause," said Natalie Finegar, Keith Smith's defense attorney, as his bail review hearing Thursday. "You can look at it. It's a buzz word for bad junk science potential so we need to look at all of that very carefully.”
On Feb. 14, a source familiar with Keith and Jacquelyn Smith told police that prior to her death, Keith asked his brother Vick if he would help kill Jacquelyn. This information was relayed to Keith’s friend, Donnell Morgan. Police questioned Morgan, who confirmed Vick Smith approached him about Keith’s request to help kill his wife. Police then brought Vick Smith in for questioning. Vick said that prior to Jacquelyn’s murder, Keith told his brother that his wife was talking about pursuing a divorce.
After leaving police headquarters following his questioning, Vick called his brother, saying in conversation, “I don’t, I don’t, I don’t wanna talk, because you know everything got ears now.” The two discussed the questions police asked Vick, who reminded Keith to “pay attention to that phone man. Please pay attention to it.”
Investigators then learned that Keith was sending a phone to his daughter that the two could use to communicate. Using a warrant, that phone was intercepted by police, who attempted to monitor it’s usage. An app used by Keith and Valeria did not allow detectives to capture their communication.
On the evening of Feb. 28, Vick contacted Keith saying he had just been served a Grand Jury Subpoena the day prior. Vick advised that if the Grand Jury had enough evidence, a warrant would be issued for Keith’s arrest.
Sensing the police closing in, Keith began to set a plan in motion that might allow him and his daughter to elude the grasp of the law, a plan that would bring them nearly to the Mexican border before the pair were intercepted and returned to Baltimore to face their alleged crimes.
"The State's Attorney kind of scrambled, threw this 15-page document together and threw everything they could at the wall to see what would stick," said Brandon Mead, Valeria Smith's attorney, at her bail review Thursday. "The reality is, it's all a very, very circumstantial. There is no direct evidence she did anything criminal and she looks forward to her day in court."