The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A panhandler was accused of killing a woman. But her family staged the attack, police say.

The husband and stepdaughter of Jacquelyn Smith, a woman thought to be stabbed to death by a panhandler, were arrested while trying to leave the country. (Video: Reuters)

The first details about the woman’s stabbing death in December were shocking.

Police said Jacquelyn Smith had rolled down her window on a dark Baltimore street just after midnight to give a woman, who was panhandling in the cold, money for her baby, only to be stabbed in the chest after a scuffle ensued for her wallet. Smith’s husband, who was in the car, had called 911 to report the attack and rushed Smith to a hospital, where she died, police said.

The killing drew national headlines, its horror underscored by the story of the selflessness that had preceded it; Oprah Winfrey commented, saying it had prompted her to reconsider donating to panhandlers.

But on Sunday, Baltimore police announced arrest warrants for Smith’s husband, Keith Smith, 52, and his daughter, Valeria Smith, 28. The story about the panhandler appeared to have been concocted to cover up a premeditated murder, police said.

The case’s unraveling drew widespread condemnation and criticism from officials in Baltimore about the way the apparently phony cover story had played on stereotypes of the city as crime-ridden and dangerous.

“The information and the evidence points to: It was not a panhandler,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said at a news conference Sunday night. “People took advantage of Baltimore. We want to make sure the truth comes out and justice is done.”

Marilyn Mosby, the state’s attorney for Baltimore, said Sunday that “oftentimes we have these negative depictions about our city, and it’s rather unfortunate when people take advantage of these negative depictions.”

Keith Smith and his daughter were arrested in Texas just north of the Mexican border Sunday morning. They were arraigned Monday morning in Cameron County court, just north of Brownsville, Tex. The two are charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, assault and a dangerous-weapons count, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Harrison declined to provide details about how police had come to finger Keith Smith and his daughter. But he said that police had been made aware that Keith Smith attempted to leave Maryland during the investigation; Harrison told the Baltimore Sun’s editorial board that the timing of their arrest was affected by how close they were to Mexico.

“I can say that being notified that they were in Texas certainly added to the evidence we already had to convince us that it was not the homeless person; probable cause existed that it was more than likely their involvement,” Harrison told the Sun. “I think there’s enough evidence to support that this still would have been the outcome.”

In a statement, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh (D) called the latest development “very troubling and sad."

“To now learn that family members staged this brutal killing is beyond belief and represents a double tragedy,” Pugh said. “They were responsible for taking Jacquelyn’s life with unconscionable cruelty, and contrived to do so in our city under the guise of random violence, exploiting the legitimate fears of our residents.”

Police Commissioner Michael Harrison announces significant development in the Jacquelyn Smith Murder Investigation.

Posted by Baltimore Police Department on Sunday, March 3, 2019

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