'Why did he do it?': Family of murdered Alaska Native woman faces alleged killer in court
A week after Veronica Abouchuk's family learned Brian Steven Smith confessed to killing her, they filled the gallery of an Anchorage courtroom to see the alleged murderer's face.
Gasps and weeping could be heard as he walked in, escorted by troopers. Some were so overcome with emotion, they had to get up and leave.
Smith, 48, was first indicted in the brutal torture and murder of Kathleen Henry, 30, in an Anchorage hotel room after an SD card containing photos and videos of the crime was reportedly found in Fairview and turned in to Anchorage Police.
A grand jury returned charges of murder, sexual assault and evidence tampering — and found that what Smith is accused of doing to Henry constitutes torture.
On Thursday, Oct. 17, officials held a news conference to announce a second indictment including charges of murder, evidence tampering, and misconduct with a corpse in relation to Abouchuk's death, which Smith allegedly told detectives happened between 2017 and 2018. APD said a skull found with a gunshot wound earlier this year belonged to 53-year-old Abouchuk.
"Scary," reacted Tatauq Muma, Abouchuk's niece, Monday. "That's very scary, just something that I can't imagine. I would never think that would happen."
She and other family members described Abouchuk as a kind and loving woman who enjoyed life, even though she didn't have a home to call her own.
"She did tell me that she liked being homeless the last time I saw her," Muma said.
When she disappeared, Muma said the family was worried about her, but hoping for a better outcome. Now that they have some answers about what happened to her, she said there are even more unanswered questions.
"Why did he do it?" she wants to know.
Muma doesn't believe the family has heard the last of Smith's crimes.
It's also not their first time grieving the loss of a loved one to violence. Martha Toms was Abouchuk's sister. She was killed in 2005.
According to the Anchorage Crime Stoppers website:
"On September 22, 2005, Toms was found underneath a picnic table in Lyons Park in Mountain View. She was beaten severely, but still alive. Toms was transported to a local hospital where she died a short time later."
Through his public defender, Smith entered not guilty pleas to all charges in Abouchuk's killing and Judge Michael Wolverton granted the state's request for an increased $2 million cash bail.
APD has said Smith was known to detectives because he was involved in a separate ongoing investigation prior to Henry's death, but declined again Monday to share the nature of the other investigation.
Anyone with information about these cases or Smith is urged to contact Anchorage police at 311.
If you have information as to the person(s) Toms was with prior to her death, or the person responsible for her death, call Crime Stoppers at 561-STOP or submit your tip anonymously using this website.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, resources are available on the Standing Together Against Rape (STAR) website or by calling the statewide crisis hotline at (800) 478-8999.
Correction: This story has been edited to correct a typo.
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