JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — The man accused of shooting three people at an Alabama church potluck dinner last summer has pleaded guilty to capital murder.
Robert Findlay Smith, 71, Smith had previously entered a plea of not guilty in September, but reversed course and accepted a plea deal Tuesday afternoon. As part of the plea deal, Smith was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“This type of senseless murder of three innocent people is certainly a case our office would typically try in front of a jury and seek the death penalty, however, that was not the wish of the three families in this case,” Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr said in a written statement. “After much discussion, thought and prayer the families were unanimous that they would prefer a plea of Guilty to Capital Murder and a Life Without Parole Sentence.”
Smith pleaded guilty to walking into potluck dinner at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church on June 16, 2022 before opening fire and killing Bart Rainey, Sarah Yeager and Jane Pounds.
“I cannot speak for myself,” Rev. John Buruss said in a church service at St. Stephen’s following the shooting. “I don’t know what honestly I would have that kind of strength and compassion, but there is not a doubt in my mind that Bart, Sarah and Jane would invite their Judas again and again to sit down and share a meal because they knew God’s unconditional love. It was their guiding ethic and they fully embodied it and they knew it was the way to eternal life.”
Following news of Smith’s plea, St. Stephen’s officials released a statement offering prayers to everyone affected by the shooting.
“As this chapter closes, we offer prayers for the families of Sharon, Bart, and Jane,” the statement read. “We offer prayers for all the lives who have been – and continue to be – altered by this tragedy, especially those who were in the Parish Hall on June 16. As difficult as it is, we pray that God’s redeeming love may reach Mr. Smith as he lives with the consequences of his actions for the rest of his life.”
Smith, a licensed gun dealer whose home was registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms department, had previously received a warning letter from the bureau regarding missing gun inventory back in 2018, according to a report by The Trace.