MINNEAPOLIS — A Hennepin County jury has found Jamal Smith guilty of first-degree murder and two other criminal counts in the high-profile shooting death of a youth baseball coach on Highway 169 in Plymouth last summer.
Smith was charged with first- and second-degree murder, and being a felon in possession of a firearm in connection with the death of Jay Boughton, who 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.
The conviction for first-degree murder means Smith will receive a mandatory life sentence in prison.
KARE 11's Lou Raguse was in the courtroom as the verdicts were read. He says the Boughton family and their supporters tried to hold their emotions in, but he heard an audible sigh of relief and a very quiet "yes!" as the guilty verdict on the count of first-degree murder was read.
Smith wiped his face as the third guilty verdict was read.
Afterwards in the hallway outside Raguse heard Boughton's wife Kristin call her kids. To her son, who was in the car with Jay, she said “Hey Harrison, hey honey, we got him. He’s guilty on all three counts. We got him.”
To her daughter, Kristin Boughton said "This is a win for your dad."
Speaking outside the courthouse following the verdict, Stephen Robinson spoke on behalf of family members, citing the occasion not as a moment of celebration, but as one of perseverance and strength.
"It's not a celebratory mood that the family has," he said. "We don't get Jay back. Kristin will wake up tomorrow morning without Jay. Her kids will grow up without their father. [Jay's] mother and father don't have a son - one of their sons - and Chad the brother no longer has a brother ... but with that said, the strength, the courage, the staying in the light, Jay's light, God's light, has been truly amazing this past year."
Robinson thanked the members of the community both during and after the death of his brother-in-law that supported the family through trying times.
"Total strangers can come to your aid in the darkest times," he said.
He defined the day's events as another step in an unfinished journey that Jay's wife Kristin and their two children will have to walk long after the verdict is rendered.
Kristin Boughton commented on that journey through tear-filled eyes.
"We miss Jay so much. He was a loving father and a loving husband, and a best friend to so many people...today is just a step in the right direction, but Harrison, Amalie and I have a long way to go, without Jay," she said.
"I want to first send my condolences to the (Boughton) family for their loss," Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said after the verdict. "Nothing we do can bring him back, but this conviction brings us one step closer in achieving justice for Jay Boughton. Difficult cases like this one show that random violence will not be tolerated, and we will take every step to ensure justice for victims and their families."
It took more than 16 hours of deliberations for the jury to reach their verdict, and by most indications it was not an easy decision. Just a half-hour into the deliberations that started Tuesday afternoon, jurors returned to the courtroom with a message for Judge Nicole Engisch. Then on Wednesday afternoon, the panel told the judge they had made a decision on the counts of second-degree murder and illegal weapons possession, but were unable to reach consensus on the first-degree murder charge, and were uncertain whether continued debate would lead to a unanimous decision.
Judge Engisch told them to try again.
"That's not unusual or surprising ... bringing 12 minds together is difficult," Judge Engisch told the jury. "I'm going to ask you to continue to deliberate at this time."
Before the verdict was delivered KARE 11's Raguse described an "unsettling" incident where a random person outside the courtroom approached the Boughton family and began heckling them. A number of people stepped in to chase the man away.
The trial unfolded at a torrid pace, with prosecutors calling 32 witnesses in just six days. Jurors watched a Facebook video post by Smith that showed him waving a gun on the day Boughton was killed, listened to recordings of jailhouse phone calls during which he asked people to delete social media accounts and refuse to testify, and heard a deputy testify that Smith called himself a "nationwide murderer" in a face-to-face exchange.
In closing arguments Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Dan Allard told the jury prosecutors presented solid evidence confirming Smith as the shooter, and said the defendant purposefully tracked Boughton's truck and pulled up next to it for the sole purpose of shooting.
"The defendant lost his mind that day and killed an innocent man, father and husband, for no other reason than he felt disrespected because he was given the middle finger," Allard insisted.
Smith's defense team called just one witness, the defendant himself, before resting its case Monday. From opening statements to closing arguments, his attorneys insisted that the state had failed to prove its case and insisted that one of Smith's passengers, and not Smith, fired the shot that killed Boughton.
Defense attorney Emmett Donnelly pointed to a photo of Smith's friend Brandon Smothers holding a gun that appeared to be the same weapon Smith had in his Facebook video. He told jurors "even a junior high student" can tell it's the same gun Smith was seen waving around a day earlier. Donnelly zoomed in on the weapon, trying to raise doubt within the jury as to why someone besides the shooter would have possession of the murder weapon the day after the crime.
KARE 11 reached out to Donnelly for comment on the outcome of the trial, and received the following response: "We clearly proved that Jamal was not the shooter. The prosecution added an alternative theory that he aided and abetted which can include minimal conduct. It is cruel and unusual punishment to give such a person a life sentence who never intended to kill anyone. We are examining the issue of selective prosecution."
Closing arguments previously wound up Tuesday afternoon, and the jury panel deliberated about four hours before calling it a day. Half an hour into those deliberations jurors paused to ask the judge a question. KARE 11's Lou Raguse reported there was some confusion over the burden of proof in relation to the "aiding in the commission of the crime" portion of jury instructions.
Following a lengthy discussion between attorneys and Judge Engisch, Engisch told the court she would give them corrected instructions for aiding and abetting. According to Raguse, the defense tried to have Engisch dismiss the aiding portion of the charge, but she denied the request.
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