State seeks death penalty in Vestavia church shooting case

Vestavia Hills church shooting suspect in court
Published: Sep. 26, 2022 at 12:52 PM CDT
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VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. (WBRC) - The state will seek the death penalty in the deadly St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church shooting case, it confirmed Monday.

Robert Findlay Smith, 70, is charged with capital murder of two or more people. He’s accused of opening fire at a church potluck in June 2022, killing Sarah Yeager, Walter Rainey and Jane Pounds.

Smith appeared in court Monday for the first time since he was indicted in July. He was arraigned by Jefferson County Circuit Judge Teresa Pulliam and pleaded not guilty to the capital count.

Members of the victims’ families closely watched Smith walk into the courtroom and past their row of seats. Smith, who’s been in jail since the day of the shooting, was shackled and wearing a jail jumpsuit.

“It’s difficult, clearly it’s difficult,” stated Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr after speaking with the victims’ families. “Anytime anyone loses their life, it’s difficult. We’re talking about a church and people being gunned down. We’re here to support that family and get them through this as best we can.”

Carr says his office strongly considers the victims’ wishes determining whether to seek the death penalty.

“We haven’t talked in depth about it, that will be a conversation later on,” explained Carr.

Smith’s defense is planning for lengthy litigation ahead. Defense attorney Emory Anthony told WBRC FOX6 News the state’s decision to pursue the death penalty changes his course of action in preparing for trial.

Death penalty cases require an extended timeline to prepare for trial, which at the earliest could be sometime in 2023.

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