BALTIMORE — A man who pleaded guilty to the 2021 murder of 69-year-old Evelyn Player inside an East Baltimore church was sentenced to 50-years behind bars on Tuesday.
Prosecutors said Manzie Smith Jr. stabbed Player to death inside the bathroom of Southern Baptist Church on N. Chester Street back on November 16 of 2021.
Player worked as a custodian at the church and reportedly showed up early that Tuesday to let construction workers inside the building.
When more workers arrived they noticed the chapel lights weren't on, something Player usually did when she arrived. They later found Player's belongings at the front desk before finding her stabbed 38 times inside a handicap bathroom.
Investigators located evidence of defensive wounds to Player's extremities.
Crime lab technicians also collected several blood swabs from the bathroom, the door knobs, and a light switch panel.
Some samples were found to contain a mixture of Player and Smith's DNA.
A review of church security footage showed an individual entering the church at 6:11 that morning and leaving minutes later.
Investigators discovered that Smith had pawned pieces of jewelry that belonged to Player two days after she was killed.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said Smith had a long arrest record, including past rape and robbery convictions. He had just gotten off parole one month prior to the murder.
It's not believed he and Player knew each other.
A pastor from the church says they are truly thankful to Commissioner Harrison and the Baltimore Police Department.
We are truly thankful to Commissioner Harrison and the Baltimore Police Department for doing everything they could to capture the person who committed this heinous act of violence to our beloved member in the sanctity of our church. And we are grateful to the States Attorney's office, then under Marilyn Mosby and now under Ivan Bates, for their due diligence in exacting justice. May we all strive to love one another and love peaceably with one another as Evelyn Player rests in peace with the Lord.
After announcing the initial arrest, Harrison issued a statement saying, "I am grateful for the exhaustive investigative work of the members of the Police Department in collaboration with the State's Attorney's Office in identifying the perpetrator of this crime. They have been working around the clock to solve this murder. Hopefully, justice can be served and we bring closure to the family."
Mayor Brandon Scott added "Thanks to the determined efforts of the Baltimore Police Department, the suspect responsible for the heinous murder of Evelyn Player is now in custody. My heart continues to be with the Player family. No family should have to endure the insufferable pain of losing a matriarch to violence, especially inside their hallowed house of worship. As this family continues to heal, I remain committed to working with Commissioner Harrison and the State Attorney's Office to ensure justice will be served for acts on violence in our community."