Man with history of mental illness, criminal record charged in Brianna Kupfer’s murder
A transient man with a history of mental illness and a lengthy criminal record that stretched from coast to coast was charged Friday with the fatal stabbing of a 24-year-old woman working in an upscale La Brea Avenue furniture store.
Shawn Laval Smith, 31, was charged with murder and the use of a deadly weapon in the death of Brianna Kupfer on Jan. 13, authorities said. He faces a life sentence if convicted.
“Those who show no compassion for human life will face serious consequences,” L.A. County Dist. Atty. George Gascón said. “The murder of Brianna Kupfer has left Los Angeles County devastated and my office is reaching out to her family to provide any services they may need.”
Smith was arrested Wednesday after a massive manhunt that ended when police received a tip that he was spotted sitting on a bus bench in downtown Pasadena. Police had circulated his photo and a $250,000 reward was offered for information leading to his arrest and conviction.
He appeared briefly in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom Friday afternoon, but his arraignment was postponed until Feb. 17. Smith remains jailed in lieu of more than $2-million bail.
Earlier this week, the department had released video showing the suspect inside a nearby 7-Eleven store about 30 minutes after the killing. He was wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt, dark pants, black tennis shoes, a white mask and a large, black backpack.
“It is tragic and heartbreaking that Brianna Kupfer was murdered while she worked,” Gascón said. “It is a tremendous loss for her family and friends, the community and Los Angeles County.”
On the day Kupfer was killed, prosecutors and LAPD detectives say the Pacific Palisades resident had texted a friend about 1:36 p.m. to say she felt uncomfortable about a person who was in the store. The friend did not immediately respond, according to investigators.
About 20 minutes later, a customer who walked into the store found Kupfer on the floor covered in blood. She was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
Efforts to reach Kupfer’s family on Wednesday were not immediately successful, but her father, Todd Kupfer, told The Times on Tuesday that his daughter’s death was “heart-wrenching.”
“It’s torn us apart,” he said. “We really don’t know what to do and what steps to take. We just want her life to have more meaning.”
Court records show that Smith had a lengthy and violent criminal record that covered many years and stretched across the country.
At the time of the Kupfer attack, Smith was out on bond pending a trial in South Carolina on charges of firing a flare gun into a moving vehicle with a child inside in 2019. That proceeding had been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is unclear why his $50,000 bond in that case was not revoked because of his prior record in that state.
In 2016, Smith was arrested in Charleston County, S.C., where he pleaded guilty in 2018 to resisting or assaulting a police officer and was sentenced to time served, according to court records.
In January 2021, Smith vandalized a car in Daly City, Calif., and when officers arrested him, he resisted and bit one of them, according to court records. He was charged in San Mateo County with assault on a police officer and resisting arrest.
Dist. Atty. Steve Wagstaffe said that Smith’s defense attorney claimed he was mentally incompetent to stand trial. But the suspect was examined by two doctors and, based on their findings last May, a judge determined he was competent to be tried.
Wagstaffe said Smith subsequently pleaded no contest to one felony charge of resisting arrest. In addition to an eight-month jail sentence, Smith was ordered to serve two years of probation.
He served 133 days in jail and was released but failed twice to report to his probation officer, and his probation was revoked in November, Wagstaffe said.
A bench warrant was issued for Smith’s arrest but he vanished from the scene, Wagstaffe said. South Carolina authorities never contacted his office, he said, despite Smith being held in San Mateo County jail for eight months.
Records show Smith was also arrested in October 2020 in a misdemeanor case in Covina, but the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office declined to file charges. No other details were available about the case.
Police are looking for an attacker who killed a 24-year-old woman who was working alone at the Croft House furniture store on North La Brea.
Before his most recent arrest in the Kupfer case, Smith had been seen in Pasadena, Santa Monica, West Hollywood and other locations around Southern California, police said. Authorities believe he is unhoused and used public transportation to move around.
Kupfer was one of four children, all of whom grew up in Los Angeles, her father said. She ran track and was on the dance team at Brentwood High School before she attended the University of Miami.
She was taking online courses for a degree in architecture and design at UCLA, her father told The Times, adding that she loved geometrical patterns, design and drawing.
Brianna Kupfer, 24, was killed Thursday inside the Hancock Park furniture store where she worked.
Kupfer started working at Croft House because it was a sustainable furniture company and she was passionate about such causes, her father said.
The family plans to create a foundation to honor her memory but doesn’t know yet what shape that will take.
“Her candle got snuffed out way too young,” Todd Kupfer said.
Times staff writer Gregory Yee contributed to this report.
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