A graphic video of a killing at the center of the Brian Steven Smith trial can’t be shown to jurors until at least Monday, an Anchorage Superior Court judge ruled Thursday.
The defense objected to the video being admitted until more testimony has established its relevance as evidence in the case.
“All agree that once you see these videos, you can’t unsee them,” Smith’s defense attorney Timothy Ayer told the judge. The videos aren’t “something the jury can hear and be told to ignore it.”
Smith, 53, is on trial for the 2018 death of Veronica Abouchuk, 52, and the 2019 death of Kathleen Jo Henry, 30.
The trial has drawn national attention for the fact that prosecutors contend he preyed on vulnerable Alaska Native women and documented his crimes with photos and video, at least in Henry’s case. Both Henry and Abouchuk had been homeless and struggling with addiction at the time of their deaths.
Family members and supporters of the victims have attended the trial daily. Some have made a point to wear red, the color of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s movement.
From the beginning, the trial has centered on a series of videos and photos that make up the core of the state’s case against Smith.
The videos, prosecutors have said, show Smith filming himself torturing and repeatedly strangling Henry, whose body was later found discarded off the Seward Highway. Prosecutors also say that when confronted with the videos by police, Smith confessed — and offered that he’d also killed Abouchuk.
From jury selection on, prosecutors have warned jurors that they’ll have to view the violent video as evidence. Prosecutors were ready to show the videos Thursday afternoon, with Anchorage Police Department detective Brendan Lee set to testify.
But the defense has argued that the murky story of how the videos and images ended up in police hands to begin with means they shouldn’t be shown to the jury — at least not yet.
Valerie Casler, an Anchorage woman, testified Wednesday that she was on a prostitution “date” with Smith when she stole his phone from his truck, later turned it on in the tent she was living in, and discovered horrifying videos. She later turned them in to the police.
But the details of the story had evolved from 2019 until now, and on Thursday morning defense attorney Timothy Ayer subjected Casler to a testy cross-examination, playing audio of her old police interview to highlight her conflicting statements and to undermine her credibility.
Casler, who said she had been on a crack-and-vodka binge around the time of the 2019 events, grew annoyed during the cross-examination.
“You’re trying to mix my s--t up,” she said at one point.
Just before the attorneys were to call the Anchorage police detective and show the video Thursday afternoon, Smith’s lawyer asked — outside the jury’s presence — that it not happen.
The prosecutors, he told the court, hadn’t established enough legal foundation for the video to be considered evidence.
“I don’t know how the state can show these videos are relevant yet,” he said. “There’s no foundation laid yet.”
Saxby said he agreed that the video should wait for Monday, when prosecutors are expected to call additional detectives and technicians.
“I think it is important, in this case, to get all the ducks lined up before this video is played,” Saxby said.