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Man charged with killing Evelyn Player worked at her East Baltimore church as a day laborer, his attorney says

The man charged with killing Evelyn Player at her East Baltimore church last month had been working there as a day laborer for a contractor, his attorney said.

Manzie Smith, 62, was ordered held without bail at a brief hearing Monday in Baltimore District Court. Smith’s attorney, Warren Brown spoke of Smith’s mental health issues, and said he intends to file a plea of not criminally responsible, meaning his client did not have the mental capacity to be convicted of the crime under Maryland law.

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Brown said Smith, who was arrested last week after outcries from the public and elected officials, is on medication for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other mental health issues. Brown, who visited Smith Sunday at Baltimore’s Central Booking and Intake Center, said his client has no recollection of the day Player was killed.

He did not provide a timeline on when Smith may have started doing work at the church, but said he was hired by a contractor as a day laborer to help move church pews.

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Player went to Southern Baptist Church on N. Chester Street early on Nov. 16 to let contractors inside the building for renovations, Baltimore police said. Police wrote in charging documents that Player was found stabbed inside a first-floor bathroom.

DNA recovered from Player’s body and from the crime scene matched Smith’s DNA, the charging documents said.

Smith appeared on a video monitor inside the courtroom Monday and wore a mask over his face and a yellow jumpsuit. He did not speak.

A plea of not criminally responsible, Maryland’s equivalent to an insanity defense, would trigger a two-step process where prosecutors must first prove a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If the person is found guilty, jurors then decide whether the defendant is criminally responsible and sent to prison. If they find he is not responsible, the defendant is sent to a state mental institution to be held indefinitely for treatment.

Smith has a lengthy criminal history dating back to 1978. He has seven convictions on his record, a pre-trial services investigator said at the bail review.

Smith was convicted in 1979 of raping a woman who asked him for directions, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison, court records show. In 1992, he was again convicted of rape and assault with intent to rob, and sentenced to 30 years in prison, prison officials said previously.

In October, Smith completed his supervised release conditions from the 1992 case. A prosecutor at Monday’s hearing argued against Smith’s release on bail, noting that Smith’s supervision had just expired before Player’s killing.

Smith also was convicted of a robbery in 2012, and the prosecutor on Monday called him “a significant threat to public safety.”

Brown sought a mental health evaluation for Smith, saying that his client is being held in “abominable conditions” after he was separated from other inmates due to past suicide attempts. Brown said Smith would be better served at another facility such as Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center.

“He’s got some significant problems,” Brown told Judge Rachel Skolnik.

Skolnik ordered Smith held without bail until trial and ordered a mental health evaluation and suicide risk assessment, which would move him to the medical ward, she said.

Ruby Smith, Smith’s mother, said her son has tried staying out of trouble since he was released from prison several years ago. She said he had recently been doing odd jobs and regularly attended church services at Church of Jesus the Christ in Cherry Hill.

She said her son struggled to stay on top of his treatment and medications. Smith said her son had been going to doctor but didn’t stay on his appointments, and she wanted to get some help.

“He’s been trying to the best he can. It hurts me so bad,” she said of the charges. “This is very devastating.”

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