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Convicted Rapist Who Admitted to Stabbing 69-Year-Old Volunteer Inside Church Bathroom Learns His Fate

Manzie Smith Jr., Evelyn Player

Manzie Smith Jr., Evelyn Player

A 63-year-old man in Maryland will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars after he admitted to killing 69-year-old Evelyn Player inside the bathroom of the distinguished church where she was a prominent member and volunteer.

Baltimore City Circuit Judge Martin H. Schreiber on Tuesday sentenced Manzie Smith to life in prison with all but 50 years of the sentence suspended, the state’s attorney announced.

While it is unlikely Smith will outlive the half-century sentence, Schreiber also ordered him to serve five years of post-release probation.

According to a news release from the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, Smith pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder for fatally stabbing Player inside the Southern Baptist Church and leaving her to die.

“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 statement following the hearing. “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.”

As previously reported by Law&Crime, Player was at the Southern Baptist Church early to open the doors for contractors, though it is unclear if Smith was one of the contractors working on the church.

Officers with the Baltimore Police Department responded to a call at at 7:21 a.m. on Nov. 16 about an unresponsive female at the church on North Chester Street. Once there, first responders found Player in a bathroom “suffering from trauma to the body” after having been stabbed multiple times.

Investigators said the crime scene was mostly contained to the bathroom where the stabbing took place, but noted that there was blood found throughout the church, prosecutors said.

The brutal nature of the murder left the community shaken, and authorities pleaded for anyone in the community with information on the case to come forward. At one point they offered a reward of $100,000 for information leading to her assailant’s arrest.

Investigators said Player clocked in at the church at 6:03 a.m., unlocking the side door and leaving propped open with a cone for the workers performing renovations. She left her cell phone and personal belongings at the front desk.

“When the first worker arrived, he came in through the propped door, yelled hello, and began his work without getting a response or seeing Ms. Player,” prosecutors wrote in the release. “The second worker arrived at the church around 7:00 a.m. and noticed that the chapel lights were not on, something Ms. Player usually did upon her arrival. When he saw her belongings at the desk, he began looking for her. He found the handicapped bathroom locked, so he used his key to open it and found Ms. Player in the bathroom.”

An autopsy revealed that Player suffered 38 stab wounds, primarily to her face, neck, and chest, along with 54 “cutting wounds” and defensive wounds to the same areas.

Authorities said Smith was caught on surveillance camera footage entering the church at at 6:11 a.m. and leaving less than 20 minutes later. Two days after Player was killed, Smith pawned gold rings using his ID that were later confirmed to have belonged to Player.

As previously reported by Law&Crime, Smith was sentenced in 1992 to 30 years in prison after being convicted of rape. He was found incompetent to stand trial in 2012 for robbing an elderly woman after he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, and other conditions, the Baltimore Sun reported.

He then became a patient at Spring Grove Hospital Center where he received treatment. After his release, Smith pleaded guilty to the robbery and in 2014 was sentenced to eight years in prison. He was still on probation for the robbery conviction at the time of Player’s murder.

Before the hearing ended, Smith apologized for his actions, according to the Sun.

“I’m truly sorry,” he reportedly said. “Please forgive me.”

(images via Baltimore Police Department)

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.