MINNEAPOLIS — A high-profile trial is now underway, with opening statements unfolding Monday morning in the murder trial of Jamal Smith.
Smith faces first- and second-degree murder charges in the death of youth baseball coach Jay Boughton on July 6, 2021. Prosecutors say Smith fired a single shot following a short traffic altercation on Highway 169 in Plymouth, striking Boughton in the head and killing him instantly.
KARE 11's Lou Raguse, who has covered the case from its inception, shared that the courtroom was packed with more than 100 supporters of the Boughton family, wearing yellow to show their support for Jay's son Harrison. In the hallway dozens of teens greeted Harrison Boughton as he entered the courtroom.
4 p.m. - State prosecution breezes through witnesses
Following the testimony of Jay Boughton’s wife and son in the morning, prosecutors called eight additional witnesses. Through a MnDOT employee, prosecutors walked the jury through the traffic camera video and still photographs that tracked the path of the SUV as it got onto I-694, I-94, then Highway 169 southbound leading up to the shooting.
Jake Scharber-Pikula testified how he heard Harrison Boughton screaming and came outside his apartment to help. He wrapped a towel around Jay Boughton’s neck to try and slow the bleeding until an ambulance arrived.
“I gave the boy a hug and said I’m sorry,” Scharber-Pikula said he did at that point.
Law enforcement officials testified that the trajectory of the shot could not be traced, except to confirm it came through Jay Boughton’s driver’s-side window.
The defense’s main strategy in cross-examination so far has been trying to show that no one knows for sure from where in the SUV the shot was fired, and that it would be most difficult to fire from the driver’s seat.
11:30 a.m. - son Harrison Boughton takes the stand
Harrison Boughton, who is soon to be a junior in high school, stepped up to the witness stand and was questioned by Assistant County Attorney Dan Allard. He recalled the night his father was fatally shot, telling the jury panel that it was dark out and he was on his phone as they drove towards the family home in Crystal. He eventually noticed another vehicle "driving fast, getting close, trying to move into them." Harrison described the vehicle as grey.
He testified that he did not see the driver or occupants of the SUV but said his dad swerved, honked and flipped the driver off as the vehicle tried to move into his lane. Harrison Boughton told the courtroom he did not hear the shot, but heard glass break and saw a circle entry on the driver's side window. At the time he did not realize it was a gunshot, but recalled hitting the ditch off 169 and then swerving into a parking lot before hitting a number of cars.
Harrison Boughton said he then asked his father if he was OK, and recalled seeing blood before getting help from a bystander and calling 911. KARE 11 reporter Lou Raguse describes the teen as being "remarkably strong" while describing the event, wiping away tears towards the end of his testimony.
Defense attorney Emmett Donnelly cross-examined Harrison Boughton, asking him questions surrounding his testimony about not seeing the gunshot that killed his father. Raguse said the line of questioning did not last long, and the teen left the stand.
Jurors then heard audio of Harrison Boughton's frantic 911 call before court recessed for lunch.
11 a.m. - Testimony begins with wife Kristin Boughton
The first witness called to the stand by prosecutors was Kristin Boughton, Jay's wife of 17 years. She told jurors the two went to the same Twin Cities high school, then reconnected some 15 years later.
"One of the things that attracted me to Jay... is he had more friends than anyone I've ever met in my life," Kristin Boughton told the courtroom. "He loved everyone and everyone loved Jay. When we got married, we had more than 450 people at our wedding celebration... 20 of them were my friends and the rest were his."
Prosecutor Erin Lutz then turned to July 6, the night of Jay's death. Kristin Boughton says she, her husband and two kids would have usually been in the vehicle together while going to the baseball game in Coon Rapids, but her daughter had volleyball tryouts so the family separated. She told jurors they were headed home when she received a frantic phone call from Harrison.
"He was alarmed but he was also very calm. He said, Mom, dad's been hurt really bad. You need to come quick," Kristin testified as she broke down crying. She and her daughter drove straight to the crash scene, describing herself as anxious, nervous and confused. Upon arrival she was greeted by the apartment resident who provided medical aid to Jay following the shooting.
"I'm sorry, I tried to help him," Kristin Boughton recalled the good Samaritan saying.
After arriving at the hospital, she remembers the doctor telling her that they did everything they could but Jay did not survive. "This has been the most painful experience of our lives," Kristin testified, telling jurors "and today is his birthday. He would have been 58 today."
The defense had no questions for Kristin Boughton, and her son Harrison was then called to the stand.
10:30 a.m. - Opening statements begin
Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Erin Lutz was first up, laying out the case prosecutors intend to prove against Jamal Smith. She began by describing the night Jay Boughton was killed, telling jurors that he and his teenage son Harrison were driving home down Highway 169 after their baseball game was cancelled by rain. As they neared 36th Avenue in Plymouth Lutz says a silver SUV "came barreling up behind them, speeding, swerving and trying to change lanes."
Lutz says at that point, Boughton honked his horn and held up his middle finger. "Disrespected and enraged, the defendant reached into the center console, grabbed his firearm, extended his arm, rolled down the window, took aim, and fired -- striking Jay Boughton behind his ear," Lutz insisted.
"Harrison innocently thought he (Smith) had thrown a bottle at their car," Lutz continued. "Who would shoot someone for honking the horn and giving the finger?" She emphasized the bravery of the teen, who was "terrified" but jumped out of the car, called 911 and began screaming for help. A resident from a nearby apartment ran down to provide medical assistance while Harrison tried to flag down an ambulance, Lutz explained. Despite their efforts, Jay Boughton was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
"On July 6th, the defendant shot and killed Jay Boughton with a gun he was not eligible to possess," Lutz said, referring to Smith's previous felony convictions.
The prosecution explained how police tracked Smith down, starting with a resident reporting the rented Suburban abandoned in north Minneapolis, which led to fingerprints and a video Smith posted on Facebook that investigators say shows the defendant brandishing the weapon that killed Boughton. Lutz also detailed another road rage incident she says took place in Wisconsin on the same day Boughton was killed. She says the same rented Suburban was tailgating a motorist, who then "brake-checked" the other vehicle. The driver told police that "the next thing he knew, the driver of the Surburban, a black male with dreadlocks, is pointing a gun out the window at him."
Lutz told members of the jury that the description matched Jamal Smith and not two people who were in the SUV with him. She ended by telling the panel they can prove Smith is guilty whether he is the shooter, or if he aided the shooter.
Attorney Kellen Dotson stepped up to deliver opening statements for Smith's defense team. He insisted several times that the evidence will not support the allegations. "The right thing to do and the hard thing to do are usually the same," Dotson told jurors, implying that acquitting Smith will be difficult but the correct verdict to reach.
Dotson admitted evidence gathered by investigators will show Jamal Smith was the driver of the SUV, but used what KARE 11's Raguse called an "incredulous tone" when telling the courtroom Smith could not have been the shooter.
"The state would like you to believe Mr. Smith balanced the steering wheel with his left hand, in rain at night, controlled the vehicle, took his eyes off the road, grabbed a firearm and shot over that passenger and hit Mr. Boughton," Dotson said.
Dotson wound up his brief opening statement by repeating that evidence does not support a conviction, and then court broke before testimony gets underway.
9:15 a.m. - Juror dismissed
Before opening statements began, Hennepin County District Court Judge Nicole Engisch dismissed a female juror who apparently did not share details of upcoming vacations and says she could not remain focused on the trial.
Judge Engisch also heard a motion from Smith's defense team to prohibit "spark of life" testimony, where witnesses offers details of a victim's life or personality so jurors get an essence of what they were alike when living. The defense argued that other states don't allow such testimony, and that it could unfairly influence jurors. "There is enough public pressure directed upon this jury that this court should curtail the character evidence and emotional appeals,” argued defense attorney Emmett Donnelly.
Donnelly also argued that the testimony of Boughton's son, who witnessed the murder from the passenger seat, will do what spark of life testimony does and therefore any other spark of life witnesses would be cumulative.
Assistant County Attorney Erin Lutz pointed out that spark of life testimony is well-established in Minnesota case law, and told the court that Boughton's son is a "fact witness" in building their case, and that it would be too much of a burden to also ask him to describe the life of his father in addition.
Judge Engisch ruled that spark of life testimony will be allowed, and the jury was sworn in.
Boughton was shot while driving on Highway 169 just over one year ago. It was a single shot fired from a moving SUV on a rainy night that led to multiple pleas from Plymouth Police for someone to come forward with tips.
That gunshot killed Boughton right in front of his 15-year-old son. The beloved coach was mourned by people across the Twin Cities Metro.
After finally finding the SUV from where the shot was fired and tracking who rented it, video surveillance and cell phone data led police to Jamal Smith, who still had a video on his Facebook page. A livestream from just hours before the shooting showed Smith holding what police believe is the murder weapon.
Court documents indicate a passenger in that SUV told police he thought Smith fired the shot, but that might not even matter.
Minnesota defense attorney Mike Bryant, who studied the public details of the case for KARE 11, said because of the way the Hennepin County Attorney's Office filed charges in the case, they don't necessarily have to prove Smith was the shooter.
They could instead prove he "aided and abetted" in the shooting death of Boughton and still end in a conviction.
But if the Judge clarifies that the state must prove Smith was the shooter, Bryant said the case gets a little more complicated, because of multiple passengers and weapons in the SUV.
Prosecutors would have to rely on Smith's friends to testify against him, or explain their earlier statements to police that incriminated smith.
"They don't know for sure what they are going to say," Bryant said. "We've seen that in all sorts of cases where people change their story when they get on the stand."
Judge Engisch was expected to rule on the matter Monday but did not.
Another piece of evidence they will use is an interview Smith did with KARE 11's Lou Raguse that the jail recorded, in which he admitted he was the driver, but then claimed a passenger shot.
Watch more local news:
Watch the latest local news from the Twin Cities in our YouTube playlist: