Man who claimed panhandler killed wife gets life in prison

Killing Blamed On Panhandler (Cameron County Sheriff's Office)
Killing Blamed On Panhandler (Cameron County Sheriff's Office)

A man who tried to cover up his wife’s 2018 stabbing death with a story blaming a Baltimore panhandler was sentenced to life in prison Monday.

Keith Smith, of Aberdeen, was convicted in December of first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Jacquelyn Smith, a 54-year-old electrical engineer at Aberdeen Proving Ground. He was sentenced to life in prison for murder plus three years to be served concurrently for the use of a deadly weapon, The Baltimore Sun reported.

Appearing by video from jail, Smith apologized to Jacquelyn’s family but maintained he was innocent. His attorney, Natalie Finegar, asked the judge for a sentence less than the maximum, focusing on his faith and involvement in his church before his arrest.

Circuit Judge Jennifer Schiffer said she had never seen facts that “showed more premeditation, willfulness and intent.”

“The crime for which the defendant was convicted was the reason the maximum sentence for murder was created,” Schiffer added.

Keith Smith told police his wife was knifed by a man after handing $10 to a female panhandler who appeared to be holding a baby, a story that drew national attention, as he and his daughter, Valeria, gave tearful interviews. Oprah Winfrey, once a newscaster in Baltimore, tweeted that the case would make her reconsider handing out cash to panhandlers.

But the story fell apart when detectives failed to find evidence of the panhandlers and surveillance video and cellphone data didn’t show Smith’s car along the route he claimed to take.

Keith Smith and his daughter were arrested in March 2019 in Texas during what was cast as a dash for Mexico.

Valeria Smith, who pleaded guilty in 2019 to acting as an accessory after her stepmother’s slaying, admitted ditching her stepmother’s purse at a bus stop to support the panhandler story. She testified that her father drove them into a park as his wife dozed, then stabbed her. Afterward, Keith Smith coached his daughter on what they would tell police.

“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 Smith told the jury. “When she gave them the money, they stabbed her.”

Keith Smith’s attorney told the jury that inconsistencies in her client’s story don’t prove he killed his wife.

Valeria Smith was sentenced in December to five years in prison under a plea deal, in which she agreed to testify against her father.