Trial begins for man who claimed Baltimore panhandler killed wife

BALTIMORE (AP) — A trial has begun for a man accused of killing his wife and blaming her death on a Baltimore panhandler.

Keith Smith told police that his wife, Jacquelyn, an engineer at an Army facility, was trying to give money to a panhandler when she was robbed and fatally stabbed in 2018. But Assistant State’s Attorney Shaundria Hanna told a jury Thursday that as Smith repeated his story, details changed “and the inconsistencies became apparent,” The Baltimore Sun reported.

Prosecutors began presenting their case Thursday. The 55-year-old Aberdeen man is charged with first-degree murder and weapons offenses. Investigators believe he killed his wife Dec. 1, 2018, then covered it up with a story that she was knifed by a man after handing $10 to a female panhandler who appeared to be holding a baby.

Smith’s version of his wife’s slaying drew national attention. Oprah Winfrey, once a newscaster in Baltimore, tweeted that the tragic case would make her reconsider handing out cash to panhandlers.

Keith Smith and his daughter, Valeria, were arrested in March 2019 in Texas during what police portrayed as a desperate dash to Mexico.

Smith’s defense attorney Natalie Finegar told jurors that inconsistencies don’t prove he killed his wife.

“We don’t know what happened. When you look at the evidence,” Finegar said, “you’re just left with more questions.”

Valeria Smith, 31, pleaded guilty in 2019 to acting as an accessory after her stepmother’s slaying, admitting to ditching her stepmother’s purse at a bus stop to support the panhandler story. Under her plea deal, she is to testify against her father next week and she faces 10 years in prison at sentencing after the trial.

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