‘I am officially on the run’: Daughter testifies against Keith Smith in case of hoax panhandler killers

Kevin Richardson/The Baltimore Sun/TNS
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  • Jaclyn Smith
    Jaclyn Smith
    American actress and businesswoman

BALTIMORE — Trying to outrun murder charges in Baltimore, Valeria Smith and her father barreled toward Mexico, stopping only to change clothes, grab a bite or buy a diary so she could record her thoughts.

“Today is the craziest day of my life. I am officially on the run,” she wrote. “I feel so sad I won’t be able to see my children … This is so f---ed up … this is not the time to panic.”

Valeria Smith, 31, of East Baltimore, read from her diary Tuesday during the murder trial of Keith Smith, her father. She described feeling conflicted as the pair went on the run in March 2019; she didn’t want to leave home, but she followed her father’s instructions to conceal the crime.

Keith Smith, 55, of Aberdeen, faces first-degree murder and weapons charges for allegedly stabbing his wife Jacquelyn to death in December 2019 and then blaming the nighttime attack on knife-wielding panhandlers. Valeria went along with the ruse.

“Why did you only mention the panhandler story?” Assistant State’s Attorney Shaundria Hanna asked.

“I was doing what my father asked me to do,” Valeria said.

Jacquelyn Smith, an engineer at Aberdeen Proving Ground, was stabbed repeatedly in her heart and lung. The attack came as she drove through East Baltimore with Keith and Valeria around midnight in December 2018.

Keith Smith told police the three were headed home after celebrating Valeria’s birthday at an American Legion hall. Jacquelyn passed $10 out the window to a couple panhandling with a baby, he told police, but they snatched Jacquelyn’s necklace, stole the wallet from her lap and stabbed her with a kitchen knife. He drove his wife to the hospital where she died.

As the state’s key witness, Valeria Smith told jurors she had taken heroin pills that night in the bathroom of the American Legion and was nodding out in the car when they stopped in Druid Hill Park. Without warning, her father stabbed a dozing Jacquelyn in the chest, she said.

“I think she was asleep,” Valeria told the jury.

She spoke softly and did not look at her father in the courtroom.

“The story was supposed to be it was a homeless person, or two homeless people, that had a baby, and Mrs. Jacquelyn was supposed to feel sorry for them,” Valeria said. “When she gave them the money, they stabbed her.”

She testified that her father instructed her to ditch Jacquelyn’s wallet to support the ruse. He draped a towel over his dying wife’s head as he drove them all to the hospital, Valeria said.

Keith and Valeria Smith appeared stricken with grief in the days afterward, crying on the news and imploring lawmakers to outlaw panhandling in the streets of Baltimore so no one else falls victim. Their tragic tale, weeks before Christmas no less, drew attention around the country.

Detectives grew suspicious because cellphone signals placed the Smiths’ car in Druid Hill Park around the time of the murder — not where the attack supposedly took place.

By then, Keith Smith was trying to throw off investigators, according to trial testimony. He moved to Florida, changed his cellphone carrier; authorities had to obtain a new wiretap for his phone. He mailed Valeria a package with a new cellphone, too. They communicated about the crime through a protected video app; detectives couldn’t listen in.

He called a travel agent and tried to book one-way flights to Cuba, the Virgin Islands and Canada. Prosecutors played those phone calls for the jury. Without a passport, he couldn’t leave the country.

Police called the carrier of Jacquelyn Smith’s life insurance policy and asked the company to withhold payment to Keith Smith because he had become a suspect in her murder. Three months after the killing, he drove from his new home in Florida back to Baltimore and picked up Valeria.

Together, they made a run for the border.

“My father raised me since I was a little girl so we had a pretty good relationship,” Valeria told the jury.

She described her stepmother, Jacquelyn, as “a nice lady; she was always nice to me.”

As the two headed south, detectives in Baltimore issued an alert for their rental car. Texas troopers monitored the highways. They were arrested at a gas station outside Brownsville, Texas, just 20 minutes from Mexico. Valeria had dyed her hair blonde. Prosecutors played the Texas trooper’s body camera video of the arrest.

“Where you headed to?” the trooper asks.

“Me and my daughter just out sightseeing, just riding,” Keith Smith tells him.

Six months later, Valeria pleaded guilty to acting as an accessory after her stepmother’s murder.

With her plea, she admitted to helping her father cover up the crime. Her plea to accessory brings a maximum 10 years in prison, but she’s to receive a sentence of five years under her deal with prosecutors.

Under the terms of her plea deal, she had to testify against her father, who faces life in prison.

She’s already served nearly three years behind bars; she’s scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 13.

“I was strung out on drugs and scared for my life. My father made me leave the state,” she wrote the judge in her case in an earlier court filing.

She also suffered from bipolar disorder, her defense attorney wrote in a court filing, arguing unsuccessfully, to have her released before her sentencing hearing next week.

Valeria Smith recorded rap songs, worked as a boutique cashier and founded her own publishing company, Purple Press LLC. Troy Jones, of East Baltimore, has said she was to publish his jailhouse memoir. In some of her last social media posts before she was arrested, she touts the upcoming release of her new music. She called it: Shalavou — Egyptian Goddess Blood.

In another post, Smith poses with former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon. She spelled the former mayor’s name wrong. The post reads: “As thanks to the former mayor Ms. Sheila Dickson for hosting my companies first event.”

Dixon told The Baltimore Sun she never hosted any event for Smith’s company because she knows neither her nor her company.

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