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A Woman Stole a Phone from a Man's Truck. It Contained Graphic Images of a Murder, Leading to 2 Convictions

Brian Steven Smith was convicted of murdering Alaska Native women Kathleen J. Henry, 30, and 52-year-old Veronica Abouchuk

<p>Kathleen Henry/Facebook; Anchorage Police Department/Facebook</p> Kathleen Henry; Veronica Abouchuk

Kathleen Henry/Facebook; Anchorage Police Department/Facebook

Kathleen Henry; Veronica Abouchuk

Content warning: The following article contains disturbing descriptions of violence and sexual assault.

Brian Steven Smith, who was on trial in Alaska for killing two women and videotaping one of the murders, has been convicted.

On Thursday, an Anchorage jury convicted Smith, 52, of the murders of Kathleen Henry, 30, in Sept. 2019 and 52-year-old Veronica Abouchuk in 2017 or 2018. Both are Alaska Native women.

He was found guilty of first- and second-degree murder as well as tampering with evidence and sexual assault.

Smith became a suspect in the slayings after an unhoused woman stole a phone from his truck that contained graphic photos and videos of Henry’s killing, which took place in room 323 at a Marriott Hotel in Anchorage.

The woman handed over to police a memory card that contained 39 images and 12 videos on Sept. 30, 2019.

“You saw the defendant repeatedly strangle Kathleen Henry,” Anchorage Deputy District Attorney Heather Nobrega said about the videos during closing arguments Thursday. “You saw him step on her throat; you saw him step on her stomach. You see him fondle her and pinch her breasts. You see him poke her in the eye several times.”

Nobrega said Smith’s thick South African accent could be heard on the videos, telling the victim, “’Just take it. You live, you die.’ He's saying this as he's taking his hands on and off of her throat."

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<p>AP Photo/Mark Thiessen</p> Brian Steven Smith

AP Photo/Mark Thiessen

Brian Steven Smith

Investigators discovered that Smith, a South African immigrant, had allegedly stayed at the TownePlace Suites by Marriott where the murder occurred from Sept. 2 to Sept. 4, 2019.

Henry’s remains were found along railroad tracks near the Seward Highway by two railroad employees on Oct. 2. A coroner ruled that she was strangled to death.

Prosecutors said that after Smith was interviewed for hours by detectives, he admitted to the murder of Abouchuk, whose skull was found by mushroom pickers along a highway earlier.

Nobrega told the jury that Smith told investigators, “Are you guys in a rush to go home?" before confessing to the grisly slayings.

Smith admitted to picking up Abouchuk and bringing her back to his home because his wife was out of town. He said he killed Abouchuk after she refused to take a shower.

“She refused to shower and it just pissed him off and he went to his garage and he got his gun and he shot her in the head,” Nobrega said.

Nobrega said police later found the gun in his home as well as numerous digital devices. Technicians found a drive that had deleted but recoverable video Smith had taken of Abouchuk at his home before and after her death, according to Nobrega.

“Whether Mr. Smith did this, these crimes — for fame, notoriety, out of anger because he wants to show off to somebody else what he's capable of doing, share with friends, share with girlfriends — we'll never know for sure," Nobrega said. “We'll never know for sure. What we do know is the defendant violently and brutally murdered two women. That is why we're here today.”

Smith pleaded not guilty to 14 charges, including first- and second-degree murder, tampering with evidence and sexual assault.

His defense attorney Tim Ayer told the jury during closing arguments that the prosecution had failed to prove their case, saying that they should have tested more DNA in the case.

The woman who stole the memory card, he said, was a “habitual, forceful and very comfortable liar. Nothing that she said adds up and nothing that she said could be corroborated was corroborated."

At first, the woman said she found the memory card on the street but later admitted she stole the phone from Smith’s truck and then put the images and videos on a memory card she stole from a local store.

“It is difficult to explain the callousness and the brutality that the defendant has perpetrated on both of these women, but you have seen and you have heard the evidence and there is no reasonable doubt as to the defendant's guilt of these crimes,” Nobrega said during rebuttal.

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