The husband and stepdaughter of a woman they claimed was killed by a panhandler in Baltimore were arrested Sunday on murder charges in connection with the woman's death, authorities said.
Keith Smith — who told police a panhandler had fatally stabbed his wife, Jacquelyn — was arrested early Sunday with his daughter, Valerie, in Texas, said Acting Police Commissioner Michael Harrison.
Keith Smith, 52, and Valerie Smith, 28, were charged with first-degree murder, Harrison told reporters.
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Mayor Catherine Pugh said in a statement that it was a “double tragedy” to learn that family members were accused of staging the killing.
Harrison declined to discuss a motive, saying “that’s for a trial,” but he added that “it was not a panhandler” who killed Jacquelyn Smith.
“The circumstances were very different,” he said.
After the Dec. 1 killing, relatives told authorities that Jacquelyn — an electrical engineer from Harford County, north of Baltimore — was knifed to death after she tried to give money to a young woman with an infant and a cardboard sign that read, “Please help me feed my baby.”
A man approached the car and tried to take her wallet, stabbing her in a struggle, the relatives said.
Jacquelyn’s 19-year-old son told The Associated Press at the time that Jacquelyn's husband and stepdaughter were with her when she was killed.
In an interview with NBC affiliate WBAL after the killing, Keith Smith said he planned to push for a law that would ban Baltimore’s “epidemic” of panhandlers.
“I’m going to let the world know my wife didn’t die in vain,” he said, adding: “I see it everywhere I go. Sometimes people get violent when you don’t want to give.”
Pugh said Sunday at a news conference that Keith and Valerie Smith “took advantage of a city already dealing with its own problems.”
“They were responsible for taking Jacquelyn’s life with unconscionable cruelty,” she said in her statement, “and contrived to do so in our city under the guise of random violence, exploiting the legitimate fears of our residents.”
Tim Stelloh is a reporter for NBC News, based in California.