See more of the story

A Chicago man was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday, three months after a Hennepin County jury convicted him of first- and second-degree murder for the fatal road rage shooting of a local youth baseball coach last summer.

Amalie Boughton was 13 when her dad, Jay Boughton, was killed July 6, 2021, and up until then she had "never lost anyone in my life or been to a funeral before," she said inside the packed courtroom. She sat beside her grieving mother, Kristin, and older brother Harrison, who was in the passenger seat the night their father was shot on Hwy. 169 in Plymouth by Jamal Lindsey Smith while driving home from Harrison's baseball game.

"They just wanted to get home that night for a hot shower and bed," said Boughton's 81-year-old mother, Nova Boughton, in her victim impact statement, in which she decried escalating gun violence and Smith's senseless actions 455 days ago.

"Nearly every day and night since then, I've been trying to understand why it even happened. … I don't hate Mr. Smith. But with all my being I do hate guns and especially what he did with his gun."

Smith, 34, of Chicago, appeared virtually from jail for his sentencing. When District Judge Nicole Engisch gave him the opportunity to speak after hearing four victim impact statements from Boughton's mother, wife and children, Smith went on a nearly 12-minute diatribe lacking any remorse and maintaining his innocence.

"I am being held accountable for actions that I did not do," he said. "I have had no respect in the courtroom. … I promised my mother I would fight. I'm going to fight."

His attorney, Emmett Donnelly, said to Engisch that "this is an Innocence Project case waiting to happen," referring to the nonprofit that helps exonerate people from wrongful convictions.

Plymouth Police Chief Erik Fadden said he stands by his team's investigation.

"The work and perseverance of our officers and our detectives resulted in what happened today with him being sentenced," he said.

It took two months to locate and arrest Smith in Illinois after the shooting that sparked a frantic search for the suspect vehicle. The evidence trail included a witness from Wisconsin who testified that Smith tailgated him and brandished a gun on the roadway hours before the shooting.

Traffic cameras on Hwy. 169 showed Smith and Boughton's vehicles driving side by side, but Smith testified that he never saw Boughton's truck and denied there was any road rage.

A juror told the Star Tribune that Smith's testimony raised doubt, especially when Smith said he thought the gunfire was thunder. He admitted to driving that day and illegally possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, but claimed the shot came from one of the two passengers. Warrants were issued for both passengers, but neither testified.

On the first day of the trial, Boughton's wife and son testified on what would have been his 58th birthday.

The trial lasted six days, and it took the jury three days to find Smith guilty of all three charges: first- and second-degree murder while committing a drive-by shooting and unlawful possession of a firearm.

Engisch said prosecutors proved there were aggravating factors, including that the shooting happened in front of a child and it created a greater-than-normal danger on the roadway. Prosecutors Dan Allard and Erin Lutz also argued that Smith is a public safety risk because this was his third violent crime.

For the unlawful possession, Engisch imposed a 10-year concurrent sentence, which is an upward departure from state sentencing guidelines. First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with the possibility of parole after 30 years.

"This case, it shocked the community," Engisch said. "It did so because in a world of seemingly ever-increasing acts of violence, this case represented an act of truly senseless violence. … One life was taken in an instant, and so many lives have been impacted forever.

"My heart aches. I do hope that Mr. Boughton's family can find peace some day, living more in the memories of this man than in how he died."

Smith fixed his hair into a ponytail as his sentence was read. It was an anticlimactic ending after Engisch allowed prosecutors to play an emotional video made by Boughton's wife that opened with him riding a roller coaster with his daughter.

As the roller coaster ascended, with the clicking and clacking sound in the background, images of Boughton's life flashed before the courtroom: birthdays, holidays, vacations, sporting and school events, reading bedtime stories and coaching baseball.

His personality was on full display in two clips of him singing karaoke. His go-to song was "Wooly Bully," and the crowd in the video cheered him on and laughed as he danced. The video transitioned to rope swinging into the water, helping his daughter do a back handspring in the living room, building snowmen, roller skating and reading a Christmas card from his kids.

Kristin Boughton said her husband kept every letter from them and proudly displayed each one in his office. When they would watch Disney movies, he'd often cry at the part where a life lesson was being taught. She said he was a devoted husband, father and friend who loved hosting an annual Halloween party attended by 200 people.

"Everyone loved being around Jay," she said, adding that she will cherish all the memories from their 17½ years of marriage but she still hopelessly waits for him to come home.

"Not one day goes by without the heartache and pain of Jay's loss. Trying to make sense of it when there is no sense to make of it. It has depleted me. … It is numbing. It has changed me. But God gives me strength.

"My children lost their innocence that day. … It's not fair that they lost so much so fast. But they have so much of their dad in them."

Harrison Boughton said his dad was his baseball coach for as long as he could remember, and he always made time to ask him how his day went, play catch, shoot hoops and go for runs.

"Someone once said a good coach will change the game but a great coach can change a life," he said. "That's what my dad did."