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Baltimore Man, 62, Charged In Murder Of Evelyn Player

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Police on Thursday identified Manzie Smith, Jr., a 62-year-old Baltimore man with a criminal record, as the suspect in the murder of Evelyn Player, a church volunteer stabbed to death last month.

Smith, who was arrested early Wednesday on Crenshaw Avenue, is charged with first-degree murder and other offenses in the 69-year-old woman's slaying, Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said at a Thursday afternoon news conference.

Harrison said detectives got a warrant for Smith's arrest after zeroing in on him based on DNA evidence found at the scene. He did not go into detail, saying he did not want to compromise the integrity of the investigation.

RELATED: Who Is Manzie Smith Jr.?

"As I have said before, and I'll say it again, those who commit violent crime in our city will be caught and they will be held accountable," Harrison said. "While we are all affected by all murders, the fact that this one occurred in a house of worship made it more shocking to the conscience."

Up until recently, Harrison said, Smith was on mandatory supervision for an unspecified conviction. According to the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, Smith had been denied parole but was released on mandatory supervision, which expired in October.

The commissioner praised the work of his homicide detectives and forensics investigators, whom he said worked "tirelessly and around the clock to solve this crime and to bring closure to Miss Player's family."

Player was found stabbed to death in a bathroom at Southern Baptist Church about 7:30 a.m. Nov. 16, an hour after she had let contractors into the building for church renovations. Her murder shook the community, leading Gov. Larry Hogan to offer a $100,000 reward for tips leading to an arrest.

The 69-year-old was laid to rest Wednesday, hours before police disclosed they had made an arrest in her murder.

While police received information from the public as investigators worked to solve the killing, Harrison said none of those tips resulted in Smith's arrest. "It was the science, the science based on the evidence collected that pointed directly to this perpetrator," he said.

The commissioner said it's unclear whether Player, a beloved church volunteer, was targeted or if her killing was random. He said there's no evidence suggesting that she and Smith knew one another.

Standing alongside Harrison and State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott called Player's murder a "senseless, heinous act and a complete tragedy."

"Miss Player was what we call in Baltimore a foot solider," Scott said. "She loved her community, she loved her church and she served her community with passion. And, as some church folks would say, she loved like Mary and served like Martha. Yet, because of a heinous act of violence, East Baltimore lost this kind soul."

"What we know in a city with over 300 homicides a year is that every life lost to violence is an unspeakable tragedy," Mosby said. "But the tragic killing of a senior at a church quite candidly shocked the conscience of our community, which is why we're here today. Our seniors and our babies should be off limits."

The mayor said even though his administration is focused on addressing the root causes of crime and improving community-police relations, that won't stop police from pursuing violent criminals.

"Just because we're going to be investing in community, investing in people, does not mean that we're going to tolerate people doing acts like this," Scott said. "We are going to go after you aggressively, we are going to bring you in, we're going to hand you over to other partners in the criminal justice system."

Court records show Smith has a criminal history with his most recent conviction being for robbery in 2014. He was convicted of rape and assault in 1992.

Smith is being held without bail while awaiting trial in Player's murder.

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