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Jamal Smith trial: Judge allows defense photo of SUV passenger holding gun

The disputed photo shows Smith's companion, Brandon Smothers, holding a gun that looks very much like the one the defendant was seen with.

MINNEAPOLIS — On the fourth day of trial, the prosecution got closer to wrapping up its case against Jamal Smith — the man charged with murdering youth baseball coach Jay Boughton in last summer's road rage shooting on Highway 169.

The most interesting testimony Thursday came from another driver who called 911 from Wisconsin, three-and-a-half hours before Jay Boughton was killed and reported the driver of an SUV pointing a gun at him, whose description matched Jamal Smith. The man testified he was sure he was about to be shot “full of bullets.”

He went on to say that as the SUV finally passed him, all three people in it were pointing guns at him.

Although the prosecution has failed to produce a smoking gun in the case, Assistant Hennepin County Attorneys Dan Allard and Erin Lutz have shown the jury a lot circumstantial evidence, including text messages showing Smith's girlfriend Rondelle Hardin finding out the SUV she rented for Smith was involved in a murder on the highway. She expressed desire to come forward to police, but feared about Smith finding out.

She testified that when she confronted Smith, he told her the police don't have any evidence.

Plymouth Police Detective Nick Benesch laid out for the jury the forensic evidence they have, like text messages, GPS data and traffic cameras that documented the route Smith drove.

Jay Boughton's family has been at the trial from the beginning and says it's going well.

"We are very pleased with the progress as the search for truth continues. More witnesses today, more facts, and we're confident we'll get to the truth of the matter," said Stephen Robinson, Boughton's brother-in-law.

To convict, the jury will either have to believe Smith fired the shot, or that he aided and abetted one of his passengers in shooting.

Judge Nicole Engisch also made a ruling Thursday that lets the defense show the jury a photo of one of the passengers took the day after the shooting, holding what looks like the same gun Smith was waiving on Smith’s now-widely circulated Facebook video.

The state will wrap its case Friday, and closing arguments are expected Tuesday.

Day 4 Testimony 

10:30 a.m.

Detective Nicholas Benesch took the stand later Thursday morning to establish the path investigators took to identify Jamal Smith as their suspect in the death of Jay Boughton. He told jurors about text messages Smith's girlfriend, Rondelle Hardin, received from two friends concerned when police released clear photos of the SUV involved in the shooting. 

"I'm worried about you. I'm following this news article," one friend messaged her. "That silver truck y'all have, the newer one you were sliding with your guy in...Truck like that, same kind of plates, was involved in a murder on the highway." 

KARE 11's Lou Raguse says based on Hardin's responses to the messages, they were the first things she had heard about the shooting and she expressed fear about implicating Jamal Smith. "At this point I'm scared. IDK what to do. I want to.. but scared. How do I [come forward without Smith] knowing?" 

Detective Benesch also traced the path of the rented Suburban from Chicago to Minnesota using highway cameras and GPS data from Smith's phone. That's how he learned of Danni Knight's report of Smith pointing a gun at him during a road altercation on Interstate 90. His report from near the Wisconsin Dells was filed just after 6:30 p.m. on July 6, just three and one-half hours before the fatal shooting of Jay Boughton. 

Benesch testified that once in the Twin Cities, the Suburban drove out of the parking lot of an animal hospital at 9:45 p.m., and was captured on MnDOT cameras near Highway 169 and 63rd Ave. at 9:56 p.m., a mere 30 seconds behind Boughton's vehicle. The detective said Smith closed fast, caught up to Boughton and the shooting happened near Rockford Road.  

Court then broke for lunch, with Detective Benesch set to resume his testimony in the afternoon. 

9:45 a.m. 

Plymouth police officer Quincy Grabau was the first prosecution witness called to the stand Thursday. Grabau told the jury that he helped remove Jay Boughton from his truck and reclined the seat to make the process easier. Because of that, investigators could not use seat position in trying to determine the angle of the fatal shot from the silver Suburban. 

Next to testify was Danni Knight, a motorist who told the jury that Jamal Smith pointed a gun at him as they drove on I-90 in Wisconsin the same day Jay Boughton was murdered. Knight says he flashed his brakes on an SUV as it drove up behind him quickly and tailgated. 

Knight said after he brake-checked the other driver, a man he identified as Smith due to his dreadlocks reached his hand out the window holding a gun and appeared ready to fire. He described the other passengers as having short hair. Knight testified he thought for sure he was about to be shot full of bullets, pulled out his phone and pretended to be recording in hopes of scaring the men.  

In cross-examination Smith's defense attorney, Emmett Donnelly, asked Knight if he remembered telling the 911 operator that he saw 4 or 5 people in the car. Knight responded that he didn't remember, but explained he didn't review the call. Knight said when he talked to Plymouth PD he said there were three people in the car.

Donnelly also made a point of getting Knight to say no one actually shot at him.  

During redirect, prosecutor Dan Allard pointed out the difference between Knight and Boughton, that one flipped Smith off and the other did not. Prosecutors say that is what made Jamal Smith so enraged that he fired his gun. 

After Knight's testimony, jurors heard from Decatur, Illinois police sergeant Timothy Wittner, the man who arrested Smith and took him into custody. Wittner told the court he was doing surveillance on an apartment Plymouth police thought Smith might be at, and saw the defendant walking out. 

Wittmer testified that he searched Smith and confiscated a .45 caliber cartridge (the same caliber that killed Jay Boughton) and a cell phone. While searching the apartment he located a .22 caliber AR-style rifle, a weapon that looks like one seen in Smith's Facebook video in the hands of Brandon Smothers. 

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