By Stephen Janis, Special to the AFRO
Prosecutors have dropped murder charges against one of the suspects in a high-profile killing that was originally blamed on a homeless couple, but authorities now allege was the work of the husband and stepdaughter of the victim.
On June 3, The Baltimore Sun reported attorneys for Valeria Smith said that their client was no longer charged with the murder of Jacquelyn Smith, her stepmother. Instead, prosecutors are pursuing an accessory case against her.
Murder charges are still pending against Jacquelyn Smith’s husband, Keith Smith.
The shift in legal strategy is the latest development in a case that prompted national outcry and played into the negative stereotype of Baltimore as an intractably crime plagued city.
Keith Smith told police his wife Jacquelyn was stabbed to death last year near Valley Road in East Baltimore. Initially, Smith and his daughter Valeria claimed a homeless man had viciously attacked Jacquelyn after she rolled down her window to give money to a pregnant woman.
The case garnered national attention, casting a negative spotlight on the city’s homeless population. The story prompted celebrities like Oprah Winfrey to weigh on a national debate on the risks of helping panhandlers. The accused killer Smith even advocated for the city to pass a law to crackdown on panhandling.
But, investigators began to doubt the family’s story almost immediately.
Surveillance footage in the vicinity of the crime netted no evidence. Cell towers placed the family vehicle across town in Druid Hill Park shortly before the killing occurred, a discrepancy police say Keith Smith nor his stepdaughter could not explain. Both gave what detectives described as “conflicting” statements about the crime itself.
Later, investigators learned Keith Smith had taken out a $500,000 life insurance policy on his wife.
In March, Keith and Valeria Smith were apprehended in Harlingen, Tex., not far from the Mexico border. Authorities stated in a warrant the pair was fleeing the country to evade investigators. Both were extradited back to Maryland in April.
Since the pair were charged, questions about Keith Smith’s past have surfaced. The Sun reported Smith robbed a First Union bank in Timonium three times in 1999 and 2000. The robberies occurred over a period of six months starting in December of 1999.
Authorities also allege the couple’s marriage was troubled, and that Smith had tried to enlist his brother to help him “get rid of her.”
Keith Smith is currently charged with first degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to injure. He has an arraignment hearing in Baltimore City Circuit Court June 7.