MINNEAPOLIS — Emotions overflowed inside a Hennepin County courtroom Tuesday as the man convicted of first-degree murder in the highway shooting death of a beloved baseball coach was sentenced.
Judge Nicole Engisch handed down a mandatory term of life in prison for Jamal Smith, convicted of pulling the trigger and taking the life of Jay Boughton on July 6, 2021 as their vehicles drove down Highway 169 in Plymouth. Smith was also sentenced on convictions for second-degree murder and being a felon in possession of a firearm, which will be served at the same time as the sentence for first-degree murder.
Smith, who appeared from jail virtually along with his defense team, could one day be eligible for parole.
Before Judge Engisch sentenced Smith, Boughton's loved ones stood before a courtroom of supporters dressed in yellow and described the devastating impact the events of that night continue to have on their lives.
"We are broken… the pain is real," the victim's wife Kristin Boughton reflected. "Words do not accurately describe our thoughts and feelings."
Boughton held back sobs as she described getting a phone call from her son telling her Jay was hurt... driving up on a scene with her heart beating so loud she could hear it in her head. She described the light of Jay's spirit and how it shined in the lives of their family, friends and community.
"That night evil shot Jay and hurt my son. Do you know who I am?" she said, addressing Smith. "I am Kristin, the grieving wife of Jay Boughton, the mother of Jay’s children, who didn’t get to say goodbye to him. He died without us being with him, to hold him, to tell him we loved him."
Kristin Boughton told the courtroom she sometimes goes entire nights without sleeping, and drives by her husband's former workplace knowing he will never again come home. Boughton said she refuses to say his (Smith's) name, but described him as "a complete stranger who decided to destroy our lives that night."
"We woke up that day a happy family of four," Kristin Boughton remembered. "We went to bed that night a broken family of three."
Boughton's children each delivered short statements describing how much they missed their father's presence. "This past year has sucked, it’s been hard without my dad," said Jay's son Harrison, who was in the truck with his father when the fatal shot was fired. "He was the best dad ever. A great coach can change a life.. that’s what he did. I’m thankful he was my dad."
"Even after he’s gone, his light remains. He was my best friend and my hero," shared his daughter Amalie.
Smith's attorney Emmett Donnelly voiced concerns about what he describes as "a host of legal problems" involving the case, including a jury Donnelly says did not represent the population of Hennepin County, alluding to a lack of people of color on the panel.
Donnelly also maintains that a life sentence amounts to cruel and unusual punishment as the prosecution presented two theories concerning Smith's role in Boughton's death, calling their case an "utter failure of proof."
When given his opportunity to speak Smith embarked on a lengthy statement, saying in a soft and even voice that he has been disrespected and slandered in court, been denied his rights, and been the subject of what Smith called "a witch hunt."
"I’m being held accountable for actions that I did not do," he insisted.
Along with his sentence of life with a chance of parole, Jamal Smith was ordered to pay restitution of just over $9,800 from his prison wages. He was given credit for 407 days served.
After imposing the sentence, Judge Engisch told Smith she hoped both he and his family could find peace.
Smith was charged with first- and second-degree murder, and being a felon in possession of a firearm in connection with Boughton's shooting death the night of July, 6, 2021. Boughton was returning from a baseball game with his teenage son when he was shot and killed the night of July 6, 2021. Investigators say the shooting occurred following a short road rage incident between the two men.
Smith was arrested Aug. 24 in Decatur, Illinois, about 200 miles out of Chicago, then transported back to Minnesota. He was originally charged with second-degree murder, but was later indicted by a grand jury for first-degree murder.
There was a good deal of legal wrangling in the months that led up to Smith's trial. In November of 2021 District Court Judge Nicole Engisch revoked Smith's phone privileges after prosecutors became aware of "problematic" calls he had made from both the Macon County Jail in Illinois and the Hennepin County jail.
In late January 2022, Smith and his defense team asked a judge to throw out the first-degree murder indictment handed down by a grand jury, claiming that prosecutors knowingly allowed witnesses to give “perjured testimony” before the grand jury, and failed to present evidence that raises questions about whether Smith was the actual shooter.
Then in February, Smith complained in a long and rambling statement during a Zoom court hearing that being held in segregation at the Hennepin County Jail amounted to "cruel and unusual" punishment. Smith told Judge Engisch he should be allowed to use recreational facilities, watch TV, read newspapers and have video visits with loved ones per week like other prisoners at the jail. He accused jail staff of tampering with his mail and being aggressive and cruel towards him, treating him as “a lowlife who deserves to die.”
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