By Ava-joye Burnett

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A Maryland man suspected of killing his wife three years ago and pinning her murder on a panhandler was convicted Thursday of first-degree murder.

Jurors found Keith Tyrone Smith guilty of first-degree murder and deadly weapon with intent to injure in the 2018 stabbing death of his wife, Jacquelyn Smith, following a week-long trial.

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Smith, 55, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison plus three years at sentencing on Feb. 28.

Speaking to reporters Thursday outside the Mitchell Courthouse, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said she was proud of the jury’s verdict and the work of law enforcement.

“We’re here because we fought for justice on behalf of Jacqueline Smith, and we achieved it thanks to the hard work of the Baltimore Police Department and their detectives,” Mosby said.

The city’s top prosecutor had strong words for Smith, calling his plot to murder his wife and then blame the crime on a panhandler a “cowardly act” that damaged Baltimore’s reputation.

“He brought this negative light to the city of Baltimore and blamed this elaborate cover-up scheme on a panhandler in the city of Baltimore because we have a reputation of violence,” she said.

Mosby was joined by the prosecutor who tried the case, Assistant State’s Attorney Shaundria Hanna, the victim’s family, who didn’t wish to speak with reporters Thursday.

“It’s still really raw for the family,” Mosby said.

Jacquelyn Smith, an engineer for Aberdeen Proving Ground, was fatally stabbed Dec. 1, 2018. Her husband called 911 that night, saying his wife had been stabbed by a panhandler in East Baltimore.

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Keith Smith and his daughter fled town after his wife’s murder. They were arrested three months later near the U.S.-Mexico border, roughly 1,700 miles from Maryland.

Valeria Smith pleaded guilty in September 2019 to accessory after the fact to first-degree murder.

She took the stand Tuesday to testify against her father, recalling in vivid detail the events that unfolded the night of her stepmother’s murder. She said they were out celebrating a belated birthday when her father took a detour to Druid Hill Park. At some point, she said, he slowed down and stabbed his wife.

She testified that her father was calm afterward, but his demeanor changed when he called 911. She told the court that once her father discarded the murder weapon, a knife, in the woods, he told her to lie to police and say a panhandler stabbed his wife.

A day or two after the murder, she said, her father went to his wife’s workplace to get paperwork for her life insurance policy. He was the beneficiary.

Besides Smith’s daughter, jurors heard from a detective who felt the 55-year-old’s story didn’t add up. He told the court he was so convinced that Smith killed his wife that he called the insurance company and told them to hold off on paying out the policy.

A special agent with the FBI also took the stand, saying Google and cellphone data placed both Smith and his daughter in Druid Hill Park at the time of the murder, not in East Baltimore as Smith had said.

Valeria Smith eventually turned on her dad and testified against him. Her father’s attorney told jurors that Valeria shouldn’t be trusted because she would lie to get herself off the hook. Valeria Smith pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. She had an agreement with the state to testify against her dad. Her sentencing is this Monday and she will spend less than five years behind bars.

After the verdict, Keith Smith’s defense attorney, Natalie Finegar said she would not be commenting on the case at this time.

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Valeria Smith is due in court Dec. 13 for a sentencing hearing.

Ava-joye Burnett