Anchorage murder trial opens with differing accounts of video that allegedly captured a killing

Brian Steven Smith sits in a courtroom while waiting for his arraignment to start in Anchorage, Alaska, Oct. 16, 2019. The double murder trial of Smith, a South Africa native accused of killing two Alaska Native women will begin this week, more than four years after a woman provided police with a digital memory card that authorities said contained images and video of one of the killings. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)

An Anchorage jury heard opening statements Tuesday in the trial of 52-year-old Brian Steven Smith, who was charged with murdering two Alaska Native women more than four years ago.

A video given to police in 2019 allegedly shows Smith – originally from South Africa – torturing and strangling 30-year-old Kathleen Henry in a midtown Anchorage hotel room. Prosecutors say that, later, Smith confessed to also killing another woman, Veronica Abouchuk, who, according to the Associated Press, was 52 years old when her family reported her missing in February 2019.

Both women were from small western Alaska villages, Henry from Eek and Abouchuk from Stebbins.

In court Tuesday, Anchorage District Attorney Brittany Dunlop displayed still images from the video showing Henry’s murder and told the jury she expected to present evidence, including the full video, for the next two to three weeks.

Then, Dunlop apologized to the jurors for what they were about to see and hear.

“You will all carry the burden of knowledge,” Dunlop said. “I’m sorry that you will carry the burden of this heavy, heavy knowledge. But I’m going to ask you to convict the defendant of everything he’s charged with.”

The 14 criminal counts against Smith include first- and second-degree murder.

When it was his turn, Smith’s defense attorney, Timothy Ayer, told the jury they shouldn’t trust the video, which was contained on a digital memory card that a woman in Smith’s vehicle stole before giving it to police.

Ayer also attacked Smith’s alleged confession to police, saying the detectives questioned Smith for hours after he’d just gotten off a long flight.

“And as I described to you, what you’re going to see is evidence with a lot of issues, a lot of holes in it, either because of where it comes from, why it exists, the nature of it, what it shows and what it doesn’t show,” Ayer said.

Those supposed flaws, Ayer said, would lead the jury to acquit Smith.

The trial is set to resume Wednesday with evidence presentation and witness testimony. It’s expected to continue well into March.

Casey Grove is host of Alaska News Nightly, a general assignment reporter and an editor at Alaska Public Media. Reach him at Read more about Casey here

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