Crime & Courts

With closing arguments, Brian Smith double murder case goes to jury

[Editor’s note: An Anchorage jury convicted Brian Smith on all counts Friday. Read our latest coverage here.]

The Brian Smith case is now with an Anchorage jury.

Smith has been on trial in Anchorage for murder in the deaths of Kathleen Henry, 30, in 2019 and Veronica Abouchuk, 52, in 2018. He faces life in prison if convicted of the most serious charges.

After three weeks presenting evidence and testimony from dozens of prosecution witnesses, the state and defense delivered closing statements to the jury Thursday, in a courtroom packed with law enforcement workers, victim family and advocates, and media.

The trial has drawn national media attention in part because prosecutors contend South Africa-born Smith targeted vulnerable, unhoused Alaska Native women for brutality that he documented with videos and photos. Earlier in the trial, the jury was shown more than a half-hour of videos of Henry’s torture and strangling death that prosecutors say Smith himself filmed.

“The defendant has admitted to killing these women and dumping their naked bodies on the side of the road,” prosecutor Heather Nobrega told the jury Thursday. “He’s bragged about it.”

Smith, Nobrega said, killed both women, admitted to it in a police interview and even bragged about it — showing a photo to a girlfriend of himself sexually abusing Abouchuk’s body, she said.


“It is difficult to explain the callousness and the brutality the defendant has perpetrated on these women,” Nobrega said.

[‘I have something to show you’: Smith texted Anchorage man in hours after hotel room killing, met him at Hillside park]

Nobrega ran through the evidence at the heart of the case: the videos and photos of Henry’s death, as well as Smith’s own statements during his first interview with police.

On a screen, the prosecution projected Smith’s own statements during the 5.5 hours of interrogation video jurors watched: “I am convinced I have done this,” and “That’s my stomach,” “That’s my hand,” “That’s my arm,” “That’s my foot,” and “That is me, I’m not denying that.”

The state also presented evidence placing Smith’s cellphone tracking at the Midtown hotel where the videos of Henry were filmed, as well on the Seward Highway, where her body was found feet away from railroad tracks.

In a forceful, nearly hourlong closing statement, defense attorney Timothy Ayer sought to sow doubt about some of the state’s most central pieces of evidence: He attacked the credibility of the woman who turned in the violent video to police and whose story about how she got it changed over time, describing her as a “comfortable and constant liar.”

Ayer also scrutinized the detectives’ interview of Smith, calling it coercive and “eight hours of pre-planned hours of psychological warfare,” and he cast doubt on the state’s DNA analysis, noting that some important pieces of evidence were never even tested.

“If there’s any part of this case that makes you think, maybe not, that’s reasonable doubt,” he said.

Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She focuses on in-depth stories about the intersection of public policy and Alaskans' lives. Before joining the ADN in 2012, she worked at daily newspapers up and down the West Coast and earned a master's degree from the University of Oregon.