A man pleaded guilty on Tuesday to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison with all but 50 years suspended for fatally stabbing a woman who volunteered at her church in East Baltimore.

Manzie Smith stabbed Evelyn Player about 38 times inside Southern Baptist Church, on North Chester Street near East Lanvale Street in Broadway East, on the morning of Nov. 16, 2021. She was 69.

Smith, 63, of Greenmount West, opted to accept a plea agreement in the case instead of standing trial this week in Baltimore Circuit Court, where he faced a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“I’m just glad that he is behind bars and won’t be able to hurt anybody else,” said Alethea Finch, Player’s daughter, outside the courtroom in the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse.

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Player was born in Martin County, North Carolina, and moved to Baltimore when she was 5, according to her obituary. She graduated from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in 1970, and family members and friends affectionately knew her as “Dump.”

Following high school, Player worked as a telephone operator at C&P Telephone. She then held several positions at the printing and publishing company that later became known as Lippincott Williams & Wilkins and retired after 28 years. Later, her obituary states, she worked as a coding specialist at Chase Brexton Health Care.

She was raised in the Southern Baptist Church, her obituary states, and served and worked as a sexton. Player had a kind smile and heart of gold but was not a pushover and cared deeply about her daughter and grandson, according to the obituary.

Baltimore Police tied Smith to the crime through DNA evidence and surveillance video. Investigators also discovered that Smith had pawned two gold rings that belonged to Player two days after the killing, prosecutors said.

Smith had volunteered at the church several days before the stabbing. Prosecutors said they believe that Player recognized Smith and let him inside the building but did not offer a motive for the killing in court.

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He was transferred to a state mental health facility while the court proceedings were pending. Doctors twice evaluated him and reported that he was competent to stand trial.

Gov. Larry Hogan offered a $100,000 award for information leading to an arrest and conviction, stating that the killing had “shaken city residents and community leaders to the core.”

Assistant State’s Attorney Elizabeth Stock said she extended the plea agreement for several reasons.

First, she said, Smith is 63. Second, Stock said, there were witnesses in the case — such as Player’s daughter — who strongly preferred not to have to testify at trial.

Stock said the sentence would “most likely keep Mr. Smith incarcerated for the rest of his natural life.”

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“The state does feel this plea and this sentence is appropriate,” Stock said.

In a statement, State’s Attorney Ivan Bates described the killing as “deeply traumatic for everyone in the community” but especially for Player’s family. “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,” he said.

Leslie Stein, Smith’s attorney, said in an interview, “It’s just a sad case. It’s such a loss.”

Smith said he was truly sorry for his actions before Circuit Judge Martin H. Schreiber handed down the sentence.

If Smith is ever paroled, he must spend five years on probation.

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“Please,” he said, “forgive me.”


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