The character of the suspected Hwy. 169 road rage shooter was painted in starkly contradictory terms during a hearing Tuesday in his murder case, with the prosecution alleging that he's been tampering with witnesses and the defense saying he's a man of faith and father who poses no risk to public safety.
The comments from prosecutors Daniel Allard and Erin Lutz, and defense attorney Emmett Donnelly came as they debated in Hennepin County District Court whether bail for Jamal L. Smith, 33, should be lowered from the $3.5 million as the case goes forward. Smith is charged with fatally shooting 56-year-old Jay Boughton of Crystal as their vehicles traveled south on the Plymouth highway near the Rockford Road exit.
Judge Nicole Engisch was not swayed by the defense, gave "paramount consideration to public safety concerns" and left the bail amount unchanged. That means Smith remains jailed on charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder during a drive-by shooting and being a felon in possession of a firearm. The weapons charge stems from Smith's convictions for unlawful use of a gun while a felon in possession of a firearm.
Donnelly, sitting next to his client at the jail, pointed out that former police officer Derek Chauvin's bail amount was $1 million before he was convicted of murdering George Floyd. He noted that recent data he received from Hennepin County District Court shows that the average conditional bail amount for someone charged with the same counts in Smith's case is closer to $650,000, and that was the amount the defense attorney requested.
"The government doesn't even know if Mr. Smith is the shooter or not the shooter," Donnelly said, pointing to the aiding-and-abetting murder counts that were initially filed and then replaced by the grand jury's first-degree murder indictment last week.
"There is an effort here to brand Mr. Smith as a monster for the purpose of making him to appear less than human," Donnelly said, referencing prosecution court filings alleging similar road rage incidents by Smith that stopped short of someone being shot. "We shouldn't have to be here to defend a man's character. Mr. Smith is a man of faith; he has children. He and his children thank God every day for the gifts that they have, for the life that they have, and for God shining down upon them every day. So don't prejudge Mr. Smith here."
The prosecution late last month leveled further allegations about the defendant, saying in a court filing that for weeks and months before the shooting Smith had "pointed guns at other motorists for minor reasons while driving." The accusations were part of the prosecution's notice that it intends to bring up at trial a pattern of criminal behavior that is consistent with the charges leveled against Smith, who would be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
Prosecutors Allard and Lutz countered that Smith is not only a risk to flee if set free but also a danger to the public, and bail should remain at $3.5 million. Allard also noted that Smith has a violent criminal history that includes assaulting a police officer.
Allard challenged the defense's contention that prosecutors are uncertain who shot Boughton, saying, "The facts in this case, your honor, are horrific. He shot an innocent person in a road rage incident for no reason whatsoever. … We have no doubt that Mr. Smith was the shooter and that he will be convicted in this matter."
Also, Allard continued, Smith "has been on the phone [from jails in central Illinois and Minneapolis] tampering with witnesses, threatening individuals." Allard said he intends to ask the court to take away Smith's jail phone privileges based on those calls.
Lutz said that Smith made calls from the jail in Decatur, Ill., asking people to delete his Facebook page because it "had a critical piece of evidence as it relates to this homicide."
Once he was extradited to Minnesota and jailed, according to Lutz, Smith made seven or eight calls about wanting someone killed for $25,000 who was bothering his girlfriend in Illinois.
She added that Smith has been pressuring a key witness to recant statements to law enforcement and was instructing her on how to use the right not to make self-incriminating statements on the witness stand and avoid having to testify against Smith.
Engisch chose not to decide immediately on Smith's phone privileges. She instructed both sides to submit their arguments on this matter in writing, and she would rule in writing as well.
The next hearing in Smith's case is scheduled for Dec. 1.
According to prosecutors, Boughton's son told police that an SUV pulled up alongside them July 6 as he traveled with his father on Hwy. 169. His father "gestured" at the SUV's driver, the son said, and within 10 seconds the driver's side window was shattered by a bullet and his father slumped over. The charges do not specify the type of gesture made, but a relative told WCCO Radio that Boughton shrugged during the encounter.
Plymouth Police Chief Erik Fadden said soon after the shooting that it was prompted by "some sort of traffic altercation." Smith's SUV was in the left lane and trailing Boughton in the right lane. The SUV's right-turn signal light came on "as if to assume [Smith] wants to merge into the right lane," Fadden said at the time. Smith was arrested in Decatur, four days after the first round of charges were filed on Aug. 20.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482