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Crime News Murders

Man Gets Life For Fatally Stabbing Beloved Baltimore Woman In Church Bathroom

Church employees found 69-year-old Evelyn Player fatally wounded in a locked bathroom after she received 38 stab wounds and 54 "cutting wounds" to her face and body. Two days later, the suspect attempted to pawn two of the victim's gold rings, according to prosecutors. 

By Jax Miller
Killer Motive: What Drives People To Kill?

A Maryland man is expected to spend the rest of his life behind bars for the murder of an elderly church volunteer.

Manzie Smith Jr., 63, pleaded guilty to charges of first-degree murder for the 2021 stabbing death of Evelyn Player, 69, according to the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office. Player was found fatally stabbed inside a locked bathroom of the Southern Baptist Church in east Baltimore after sustaining dozens of wounds to her face and body.

Following Tuesday’s plea, Smith was sentenced to life with all but 50 years suspended, plus five years supervised probation, should he ever be released.

“Please, forgive me,” Smith said at sentencing, according to the Baltimore Banner.

Player’s daughter, Alethea Finch, told the Banner she was “glad” in light of Smith’s sentencing.

“This case was deeply traumatic for everyone in the community and especially for the family of Evelyn Player, a matriarch of the neighborhood, who can never be replaced,” State’s Attorney Ivan J. Bates said in a Tuesday release. “This plea allows the family to receive closure and process their grief, resulting in a lengthy sentence that will ensure this dangerous individual never returns to the streets of our city again.”

Manzie Smith Jr Pd

Described as a woman who “gave her life to Christ and the Church,” Player arrived at the N. Chester St. church on Nov. 16, 2021, clocking in just after 6 a.m., according to the state’s attorney’s office. The woman entered the building through a side entrance, propping the door ajar with a traffic cone for fellow employees who would arrive a little more than an hour later.

Player left her personal belongings at the front desk, including her mobile phone.

The first of two employees arrived at the church and received no response after yelling “hello,” according to the state’s attorney’s office. The second grew suspicious when noticing Player hadn’t turned on the chapel lights as she regularly had.

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“When he saw her belongings at the desk, he began looking for her,” according to the release. “He found the handicapped bathroom locked, so he used his key to open it and found Ms. Player in the bathroom.”

First responders reported Player dead on the scene at 7:30 a.m.

A postmortem examination showed most of the 38 stab wounds were inflicted on the victim’s face, neck, and chest, and 54 “cutting wounds” to the victim’s face, neck, and hands.

Defensive wounds were also present.

Blood was observed in the bathroom and “throughout the church,” with lab technicians collecting swabs “from the bathroom, the doorknobs, the light switch panel, other entries, and a piece of cardboard that had suspected blood on it found outside the bathroom,” according to the state’s attorney’s office. The samples contained DNA from both the suspect and the victim.

The suspect’s DNA was also collected from underneath Player’s fingernails.

Additional evidence included surveillance footage, which captured the suspect entering the church at 6:11 a.m. and leaving 18 minutes later.

DNA eventually linked Smith to the crime scene, and he was arrested on Dec. 1, 2021.

“Smith was questioned on Dec. 2, 2021 by Baltimore Police detectives, who noted visible injuries to Smith’s right hand, right arm, and chest,” according to Tuesday’s release.

Investigators also learned that on Nov. 18, 2021 — two days after Player’s violent murder — Smith used his own ID to pawn two gold rings belonging to Player.

The defense said they believe Player let Smith into the building after recognizing him from his day labor at the church in the days preceding the murder, according to the Baltimore Sun.

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Smith’s lengthy criminal history was taken into consideration during legal proceedings, including a 2014 assault and robbery against an elderly woman, for which the defendant was convicted and sentenced to 18 years, according to CBS Baltimore affiliate WJZ-TV. However, Smith got early supervised release, which ended in October 2021, just weeks before the Player’s murder.

At 19, Smith was convicted of raping a woman who’d asked him for directions in 1979 and sentenced to 15 years, according to the Baltimore Sun. In 1992, he was convicted of a second rape, for which he was sentenced to 30 years behind bars.

The second rape conviction landed Smith on a sex offender registry, according to NBC Baltimore affiliate WBAL-TV.

During a 2012 robbery conviction, prosecutors said Smith posed a “significant threat to public safety,” the Sun reported.

Smith’s mental health was also factored into the case, with reports that he previously had to be separated from fellow jail inmates due to multiple suicide attempts, his former attorney, Warren Brown, told a judge following Smith’s arrest.

At the time, Smith reportedly planned to plead “not criminally responsible” for Player’s murder, according to Fox Baltimore affiliate WBFF.

“He has a lot of baggage, mental health issues, whether it’s schizophrenia, bipolar, delusional thoughts,” Brown said in 2021. “He’s been in and out of various mental health hospitals.”

Brown claimed his client could not remember killing Player, according to WJZ-TV.

Doctors twice found the defendant competent to stand trial, though according to the defense, they reportedly found he lived with with “borderline intellectual function” and also struggled with opioid and alcohol dependency, the Sun reported.

Player’s death bereaved fellow churchgoers and community members, Southern Baptist Church Bishop Donte Hickman told WBAL-TV following the murder.

“She helped feed this community, she helped to vaccinate this community, test them when they were sick, to provide flu shots,” Hickman stated. “She was a willing worker.”

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Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott noted Player “loved like Mary and served like Martha,” referring to the murder as “a heinous act of violence,” according to the NBC affiliate.

Player was born in North Carolina and moved to Baltimore when she was five years old, according to her obituary. She began working as a bookbinding instructor for Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (formerly Waverly Press) and retired after 28 years. In 2011, following her retirement, she graduated as valedictorian from the All-State Career School, where she became certified in medical billing and coding, before leaving to tend to her ailing mother.

Player was affectionately referred to as “Dump” and was active at Southern Baptist Church, working as a sexton and distributing food to those in need.

“There’s a void for all of us, but as people of faith, we believe that death is not the end, [and] that we trust God for eternal life and eternal peace, and we know Evelyn has a great reward and she’s resting,” Bishop Hickman said in 2021. “Quite frankly, better than we are on this side.”

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