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Trial of accused Highway 169 shooter Jamal Smith gets underway

Prosecutors have charged Smith with first-degree murder in the death of youth baseball coach Jay Boughton following a short traffic dispute.

MINNEAPOLIS — The highly anticipated trial of accused Highway 169 shooter Jamal Smith got underway Monday as attorneys presented motions related to how evidence can be used throughout the trial. Jury selection is expected to begin on Tuesday, June 28.

Smith is charged with first-degree murder in the death of youth baseball coach Jay Boughton on July 6, 2021. Investigators say Smith fired at Boughton following a short traffic dispute as their vehicles rolled down the highway in Plymouth. Boughton was struck in the head and died in front of his 15-year-old son. 

The first motions heard in court centered on whether prosecutors could use prior statements from witnesses, and how the prosecution could use portions of a jailhouse interview that Smith gave to KARE 11 reporter Lou Raguse.

The jail recorded the entire interview. Prosecutors told the judge they plan to either play portions of it or have a detective testify about what Smith says on the call.

In that interview with Raguse, Smith claimed that the deadly shot was fired by his backseat passenger. Judge Nicole Engisch told the defense to make a formal filing, known as notice of third-party perpetrator, if they plan to pin blame on that passenger.

Prosecutors said they have evidence that Smith possessed the murder weapon in the hours and days before and after the shooting.

Some of that evidence comes from Smith's girlfriend, who said that he would sometimes point a gun a drivers who made him mad, had the extended magazine .45 pistol in the hours after the shooting, and assaulted her to prevent her from coming forward, according to court documents.

But in Monday's pretrial hearing, Assistant County Attorney Erin Lutz said, "The state anticipates that she will be less forthcoming compared to her earlier statements, based on coaching and instructions from the defendant."

Judge Engisch ruled that the state can use the woman's prior statements, text messages and grand jury testimony during the trial.

Monday's court proceedings also revealed that Smith turned down a plea offer from the state that would have dropped the first-degree murder charge in exchange for a guilty plea to second-degree murder and a 30.5 year prison term. If Smith is found guilty of first-degree murder, he could face life in prison.

In the weeks following Boughton's death, law enforcement conducted an intensive search for his killer. The recovery of the rental vehicle allegedly driven by Smith was a huge break in the case, and investigators soon identified him as their suspect based partially on posts on his Facebook page. One was a video of Smith waving a .45 pistol around, a gun prosecutors say was the one that killed Boughton.  

Court documents lay out how investigators traced Smith's steps as he and two companions drove the SUV from Chicago to the Twin Cities on the day of Boughton's death. They identified at least five motorists who called 911 to report Smith pointing a gun at them as he drove through Wisconsin. 

Smith was arrested Aug. 24 in Decatur, Illinois, about 200 miles out of Chicago. He was transported to Minnesota, and has since been held in the Hennepin County Jail on $3.5 million bail. He was originally charged with second-degree murder, but was later indicted by a grand jury for first-degree murder. 

Credit: Hennepin County Sheriff's Office

The months leading up to the trial have been marked by legal wrangling and complaints by Smith about alleged mistreatment within the walls of the jail. In November of 2021 District Court Judge Nicole Engisch revoked his phone privileges after prosecutors became aware of "problematic" calls Smith had made from both the Macon County Jail in Illinois and the Hennepin County jail. They said Smith called various witnesses asking them to delete social media accounts, stop talking to investigators and to plead the fifth in court and invoke their right to not testify, among other things. 

The state also said Smith called people to engage in violence against other individuals on his behalf while jailed in Macon County. One witness was allegedly called by Smith 87 times. 

RELATED: Accused 169 shooter Jamal Smith has phone privileges revoked

In late January of 2022 Smith and his defense team asked a judge to throw out a 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. The defendant now claims a passenger in the SUV was actually the one who fired the shot that killed Boughton. 

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 three 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.” 

RELATED: Defendant Jamal Smith fights to throw out Highway 169 murder indictment

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