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Alaska man found guilty of first-degree murder in violent killing captured on stolen memory card

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A man who tortured an Alaska Native woman and captured her violent death in a cellphone video was found guilty of first-degree murder on Thursday in two killings, by a unanimous jury that deliberated for less than two hours.

Brian Steven Smith, a 52-year-old from South Africa, showed no reaction in court and stared ahead as the judge read the jury’s verdict. He was arrested after a woman stole his cellphone from his truck and discovered the gruesome footage from 2019. The woman, a sex worker who became a key witness during the trial in Anchorage, then copied the footage to a memory card and ultimately turned it over to police, prosecutors said.

Smith later confessed to killing another Alaska Native woman whose body had been found earlier but had been misidentified.

Smith was found guilty of all 14 charges, including two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Kathleen Henry in 2019 and Veronica Abouchuk, either in 2018 or 2019. He was also convicted of multiple counts of sexual assault.

Alaska does not have the death penalty, so he would serve a life sentence.

Jurors stayed in the courtroom Thursday after delivering the verdict to hear more evidence about whether the first-degree murder conviction involved aggravating factors. They later found the murder involved “substantial physical torture” after hearing additional arguments from attorneys.

The graphic videos were only shown to the jury during the three-week trial, but audio could be heard in the gallery, where some heard Henry gasping for breath before dying. Prosecutors said he drove around with Henry’s body in the back of his pickup for two days before dumping her body on a rural road south of Anchorage.

The video never shows the man’s face but his distinctive accent is heard on the tape. He narrates as if to an audience and urges Henry to die as she’s repeatedly beaten and strangled in an Anchorage hotel room.

“In my movies, everybody always dies,” the voice says on one video. “What are my followers going to think of me? People need to know when they are being serial-killed.”

Henry and Abouchuk were from small villages in western Alaska, Henry from Eek and Abouchuk from Stebbins. Both women had experienced homelessness.

Authorities say Henry was the victim whose death was recorded at the TownePlace Suites by Marriott, a hotel in midtown Anchorage. Smith was registered to stay at from Sept. 2 to Sept. 4, 2019; the first images showing her body were time-stamped at about 1 a.m. on Sept. 4, police said.

The last images on the card were taken early on Sept. 6 and showed Henry’s body in the back of a black pickup, according to charging documents. Location data showed that at the time the photo was taken, Smith’s phone was near Rainbow Valley Road, along the Seward Highway south of Anchorage, the same area where Henry’s body was found several weeks later, police said.

Valerie Casler, the woman who provided the images to police, has changed her story over the years about how she came into possession of the SD memory card.

She first claimed she found the card, labeled “Murder at the Midtown Marriott” on the ground.

Later, she claimed she stole the card from the center console of Smith’s pickup when they were on what she described as a “date,” but then changed it to say she stole Smith’s phone from the truck.

When she charged the phone, she found 46 images and one video on it, and later transferred those to an SD card she stole from a department store. She then labeled the card.

During an eight-hour police interrogation at the Anchorage airport, Smith confessed to police that he also killed Abouchuk. Smith had picked her up in Anchorage while his wife was out of town. He said she smelled, but Abouchuk refused to take a shower when he asked.

He became upset, retrieved a pistol from the garage and shot her in the head before dumping her body north of Anchorage. He told police where the body was left, and authorities later found a skull with a bullet wound there.

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