At first, the stabbing death of Jacquelyn Smith on a Baltimore street corner in December sounded like an act of charity gone wrong.
The way her husband, Keith Smith, told it to reporters, the couple and Mr. Smith’s daughter, Valeria Smith, had been driving home after celebrating Valeria’s birthday. Jacquelyn Smith, 54, asked him to stop the car so she could give money to a woman holding what appeared to be a baby outside in the rain, he said. Then, Mr. Smith said, a man ran up to the car, tried to snatch Jacquelyn’s necklace through the open window and stabbed her.
“The last thing I thought, that they were going to take my wife’s life,” Mr. Smith told reporters shortly after his wife’s death, his arm around Valeria Smith, Jacquelyn’s stepdaughter, who was sobbing, according to video published by The Baltimore Sun. “I got to live with that every day.”
But on Sunday, law enforcement authorities announced a twist in the case: The attack was staged, Michael Harrison, acting commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department, said. Mr. Smith, 52, and his daughter, 28, were arrested by the authorities in Texas on Sunday and charged with first-degree murder in Ms. Smith’s death on Dec. 1. Sheriff Omar Lucia of Cameron County, Tex., said that Mr. Smith and his daughter were arraigned on Monday on murder and other charges, including aggravated assault. Sheriff Lucia said they were being held in jail without bond.
“We now know that that was not true,” Mr. Harrison said, referring to Mr. Smith’s account of how Ms. Smith had died. “It was not a panhandler,” the commissioner said at a news conference attended by Mayor Catherine E. Pugh and Marilyn J. Mosby, the state’s attorney for Baltimore.
Mr. Smith told the police that a female panhandler had asked for money to help her feed her young child, according to a police report.
Texas Highway Patrol officers arrested Mr. Smith and Valeria Smith “without incident” from their rental car, a Toyota Camry, Lt. Johnny Hernandez, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said in an interview on Monday. They were coming out of the parking lot of a convenience store at about 10 a.m. Sunday in Combes, Tex., about 35 miles from a border crossing with Mexico.
Lieutenant Hernandez said he did not know what they were doing in Texas or how long they had been there. It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Smith or Valeria Smith had legal representation.
The announcement of their arrests was a stunning turnaround in a case that had stoked concerns about the city, which has one of the nation’s highest murder rates, and sympathy nationwide. Oprah Winfrey, the talk show host, said she would think twice about giving money to panhandlers.
Ms. Smith was a civilian contractor with the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense in Maryland, which manages the nation’s supply of defense equipment, a spokeswoman for the agency said on Monday.
Mr. Harrison, named the city’s fifth police chief in four years in early January and charged with trying to solve some of its most persistent problems, declined to answer reporters’ questions on Sunday about an alleged motive, saying the investigation was “ongoing.”
Mr. Smith moved out of Jacquelyn Smith’s house two weeks ago, said Marcel Trisvan, Ms. Smith’s brother, and handed the keys to him, saying he was moving to Florida, according to The Sun on Sunday. Mr. Trisvan did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.
Officials at the weekend news conference announcing the Smiths’ arrests said the suspects had exploited the city’s image in allegedly trying to cover up the killing. It was one of more than 300 in Baltimore in 2018, according to The Sun.
“People take advantage of Baltimore,” Mr. Harrison said. “We want to make sure the truth comes out and justice is done.”
Mayor Pugh, referring to Mr. Smith and his daughter, added: “These individuals took advantage of a situation — a city that is already dealing with its own problems.”
A Baltimore Sun column on Monday said the initial story of Ms. Smith’s death, about five years after the couple were married, had initially “amplified the worst feelings about Baltimore, a real sense of foreboding around every corner.”
In December, at a news conference, Mr. Smith said that he had called 911 to report the alleged attack, and that he had been instructed by a dispatcher to apply pressure to stanch the blood flow of his wife’s wounds as he drove her to the hospital.
He said then that Ms. Smith “felt moved” when he saw the woman and baby in the rain. He jumped out of the car, he said, and tried to run after the woman and the man after the stabbing, but returned to the vehicle when he heard his wife’s screams.
“I try to help people, but we are in our last days, and we need to understand there are some desperate people,” Mr. Smith said.