Jury watches video of killer singing AC/DC while killing woman

Posted at 2:04 PM, February 13, 2024 and last updated 10:33 AM, February 13, 2024

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Court TV) —  Jurors knew the day was coming when they would have to watch the sadistic recordings of an Alaskan woman being savagely murdered on camera. Still, nothing could prepare them for what they would see and hear in that Anchorage courtroom.

brian steven smith appears in court

Brian Steven Smith arrives in a courtroom after a break on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, in Anchorage, Alaska, The double murder trial of Smith, who is accused of killing two Alaska Native women, began Tuesday more than four years after a woman turned in a stolen digital memory card that authorities say contained gruesome recordings of one of the killings. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

Brian Steven Smith, a 52-year-old South African native, is standing trial after pleading not guilty to 14 charges, including first and second-degree murder, sexual assault, and tampering with evidence, in the deaths of two Alaska Native women, Veronica Abouchuk, 52, and Kathleen Henry, 30.

Livestream: AK v. Brian Steven Smith (Alaska Memory Card Murders)

Using his thick, distinguishable South African accent, investigators quickly connected Smith to the crimes in 2019 after Valerie Casler, a woman with a history of drugs, theft and sex work, turned over an SD card containing evidence of Henry’s murder.

Smith’s attorney, Timothy Ayer, unsuccessfully sought to exclude the digital memory card’s evidence — or even mention of it — at trial. Once it was allowed in, the state had to establish the chain of custody, starting with the woman who found it.

Valerie Casler’s testimony was difficult to follow as the pink-haired woman fought back and forth with the defense attorney over inconsistencies about how she came into possession of the defendant’s cell phone, which she said she took from Smith’s center console while he was getting money out of an ATM to pay for a “date” with her. Casler admitted she initially lied to police to protect herself and repeatedly fired back on cross-examination, saying, “But does the video lie?”

The memory card held 39 images and 12 videos extracted from the Micro SD card by Alaska State Troopers, who forensically determined they had been recorded using a TracFone on September 4, 2019, shortly after midnight.

The decision to play these in open court while publicly livestreaming the trial was not made lightly by Third Judicial District Judge Kevin Saxby, who acknowledged the brutality of the crime and his duty to protect the constitutional rights of the victim, the victim’s family, and every person connected with the case.

“The videos and other images in general show a woman’s final thirty-five or so minutes of life. They show her being strangled to death. She’s obviously already been severely beaten by the point the videos are being taken and she’s being tortured, and played with while she’s dying. And in addition to being robbed of her life, she being robbed of her dignity. And I’ve concluded that I have a duty not to make the court system complicit in that.”

The judge ruled that the graphic content would only be seen by the jury, and the audio played to the general public.

graphic content livestreaming slate image

Screenshot of the image projected while court played graphic content of murder to jurors in Alaska v. Brian Smith trial. (Court TV)

As the jury entered, the cameras turned away from the large monitor centered in the middle of the courtroom, and a graphic content warning image was projected on the public livestream. Detective Brendan Lee of the Anchorage Police Department introduced the horrifying evidence exhibits.

One by one, Lee described the graphic images of Kathleen Henry, naked and beaten on the hotel room floor, pausing to explain what the killer appeared to be doing as he took the photos and the injuries sustained by the victim.

When Lee got through the photos, he described the videos as the prosecution played them, pausing frequently to ask questions about what could be seen. Lee said the killer could be heard taunting the victim, saying, “Do people need to learn how to die these days?”

The defendant, Brian Smith, attentively sat with his hands interlocked in his lap while watching the gruesome footage with the rest of the courtroom.

One of the videos showed the man Lee described singing “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC while toying with Henry, strangling her with a wire and saying, “You live, you die” repeatedly. All the while, the deep sounds of Henry’s suffering could be heard in the background.

Another key moment during Lee’s testimony was his description of the killer moving Henry’s lifeless body, wrapped in a white sheet, on a luggage cart to a black Ford Ranger with a white topper in the parking lot.

After the prosecution finished direct examination, the defense opted to wait on cross-examination until after Lee’s second round on the stand and the state’s last witness of the day, Captain Bianca Cross of the Anchorage Police Department homicide unit.

Capt. Cross set the stage for Tuesday’s testimony and the interrogation video of Smith, who was intercepted at the Anchorage airport during the investigation.


For more of Court TV’s daily trial coverage of the Alaska Memory Card Murders Trial, click here.