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Police charge man for murder of Evelyn Player in her church

Emily Sullivan/WYPR
Emily Sullivan/WYPR
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison speaks at a Thursday news conference, where he announced an arrest in the killing of Evelyn Palmer, the grandmother who was stabbed to death in her church last month.

Baltimore police have announced the arrest of a 62-year-old man in the killing of Evelyn Player, the 69-year-old grandmother who was stabbed to death in her longtime church last month.

Police charged Manzie Smith, Jr. with first-degree murder based on DNA evidence collected at the scene and processed by the department’s crime lab, Commissioner Michael Harrison said in a news conference at police headquarters Thursday. He provided scant details but said there is no information suggesting a relationship between Player and Smith.

When asked whether Player was targeted or in the wrong place at the wrong time, Harrison answered: “That's a question that we're asking that the investigation has to produce the answer for. We don't have that answer at this moment.”

“While we don't know all the details of this case, I can tell you that it was not a drug related act or something connected to violent groups,” Mayor Brandon Scott said. “This cannot and will not go on in Baltimore, and it cannot be our normal and something that we expect.”

Harrison said Smith was taken into custody Wednesday at 4918 Crenshaw Avenue in Northeast Baltimore, about three miles away from Southern Baptist Church, where Player was killed on Nov. 16.

Her death sent waves of grief and shock throughout Baltimore on the same week the city recorded 300 homicides for the year.

Smith is being held at Central Booking without bail. He has had several encounters with the criminal justice system beyond this week’s indictment, according to court records.

In 1992, Smith was sentenced to 30 years in prison after being convicted of rape. Court records show he was incarcerated at the Jessup Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison.

In 2014, Smith physically assaulted and robbed a 64-year-old woman. After receiving treatment for mental health issues, he pled guilty to robbery and was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Harrison said his supervised parole expired in October and that there was no evidence that Player was sexually assaulted.

State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said Player’s killing shocked Baltimore’s conscience.

“So let me be clear, although the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty, my office has every intention and is committed to ensuring accountability to the fullest extent of the law,” she said. “Rest assured, we will continue to fight to ensure justice on behalf of this family who so desperately deserve it.”

Gov. Larry Hogan offered a $100,000 reward from state coffers for tips that led to an arrest in the case. Harrison said that investigators received information, but none that led to Smith’s charging.

“It was the science, the science based on the evidence collected, that pointed directly to this perpetrator,” he said. “There were many members of the community who were reaching out to detectives and providing information. It just didn't lead to this particular individual. …We had a lot of collaboration and cooperation.”

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.