A stolen digital memory card with gruesome recordings leads to a double murder trial in Alaska

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A lady with a lengthy felony historical past together with theft, assault and prostitution obtained into a truck with a guy who experienced picked her up for a “date” close to downtown Anchorage. When he left her by itself in the auto, she stole a electronic memory card from the middle console.

Now, much more than four years afterwards, what she discovered on that card is vital to a double murder trial set to start off this 7 days: gruesome photographs and movies of a girl getting crushed and strangled at a Marriott lodge, her attacker talking in a sturdy accent as he urged her to die, her blanket-included physique currently being snuck outside on a baggage cart.

“In my motion pictures, everyone always dies,” the voice suggests on 1 video clip. “What are my followers likely to believe of me? Persons need to know when they are being serial-killed.”

About a 7 days just after she took the SD card, the woman turned it about to law enforcement, who stated they regarded the voice as that of Brian Steven Smith, now 52, a South Africa native they understood from a prior investigation, court docket files say.

Smith has pleaded not responsible to 14 prices, together with to start with- and second-degree murder, sexual assault and tampering with proof, in the fatalities of Kathleen Henry, 30, and Veronica Abouchuk, who was 52 when her loved ones noted her lacking in February 2019, 7 months after they last saw her.

Henry and Abouchuk ended up each Alaska Native women who experienced skilled homelessness. They ended up from tiny villages in western Alaska, Henry from Eek and Abouchuk from Stebbins.

Authorities say Henry was the victim whose death was recorded at the TownePlace Suites by Marriott, a hotel in midtown Anchorage. Smith was registered to remain there from Sept. 2 to Sept. 4, 2019 the to start with photographs demonstrating her system were time-stamped at about 1 a.m. on Sept. 4, law enforcement claimed.

The final pictures on the card had been taken early on Sept. 6 and confirmed Henry’s system in the back again of a black pickup, according to charging files. Spot details showed that at the time the picture was taken, Smith’s mobile phone was in the area of Rainbow Valley Highway, together the Seward Highway south of Anchorage, the identical spot where by Henry’s system was uncovered quite a few months afterwards, police claimed.

As detectives interrogated Smith about the Marriott scenario, authorities claimed, he available up far more details to law enforcement who escorted him to a bathroom: He experienced killed another lady, and he went on to determine her — Abouchuk — from a picture and to supply the spot of her continues to be, along the Aged Glenn Freeway north of Anchorage.

“With no prompting, he tells the troopers in the toilet, ‘I’m likely to make you renowned,’” District Legal professional Brittany Dunlop claimed all through a court docket hearing very last week. “He arrives back again in and suggests … ‘You fellas received some far more time? You want to retain talking?’ And then discloses this other murder.”

Alaska Point out Troopers in 2018 improperly determined an additional system as that of Abouchuk, for the reason that Abouchuk’s ID experienced been identified with it, for factors that continue to be unclear. But with the information and facts Smith presented, investigators re-examined the scenario and applied dental documents to confirm a skull with a bullet wound discovered in the space Smith recognized was Abouchuk’s, authorities have stated.

Smith’s attorney, Timothy Ayer, unsuccessfully sought to have the digital memory card’s proof — or even point out of it — excluded at trial. The woman who turned in the card originally claimed she had just located it on the avenue, and it was not until a next job interview that she confessed she had stolen the card from Smith’s truck whilst he tried using to get revenue from an ATM and she experienced it for a week right before supplying it to police, he said.

For that reason, he argued, prosecutors would not be able to show the provenance of the 39 images and 12 movies, create whether or not they ended up originals or duplicates, or say for absolutely sure no matter whether they experienced been tampered with.

“The condition are unable to generate a witness to testify that the online video rather and correctly depicts any act that in fact occurred,” Ayer wrote.

Nevertheless, Third Judicial District Decide Kevin Saxby ruled late Friday that the lady can testify about her possession of the card until finally she handed it more than to police and that the recordings can be properly authenticated.

Henry’s family has not spoken publicly about her demise and initiatives to achieve relations have not been thriving. Abouchuk’s household has not returned messages from The Associated Press.

“These were two Alaska Native gals,” Dunlop, then the assistant district legal professional, reported in 2019 immediately after Smith was billed. “And I know that hits property listed here in Alaska, and we’re cognizant of that. We take care of them with dignity and regard.”

Authorities mentioned Smith, who is in custody at the Anchorage Correctional Facility, came to Alaska in 2014 and grew to become a naturalized U.S. citizen the exact thirty day period Henry was killed.

In a 2019 letter to the AP, he declined to talk about the case. He extra that he was carrying out well: “I have misplaced bodyweight, I have a great deal significantly less stress and I am sober.”

His spouse, Stephanie Bissland of Anchorage, and a sister performing as a household spokesperson in South Africa, both equally declined to comment until eventually soon after the trial.

The demo, predicted to previous 3 to four months, was scheduled to begin Monday with jury choice.

Prosecutors experienced instructed the chance of closing the courtroom to reduce the ugly video clips from being witnessed by the public. The Involved Push, the Anchorage Day-to-day Information, Alaska’s Information Resource and Alaska Community Media objected to any such go in a letter to the court’s presiding choose.

Afterward, Saxby claimed he has no intention of keeping the general public from the courtroom, but safeguards will be in place to prevent people in the gallery or observing the trial’s livestream from observing them.