Grand jury indicts 70-year-old on murder charges in Alabama church dinner shooting

Published 8:47 pm Friday, July 29, 2022

An Alabama grand jury has indicted a 70-year-old man on capital murder charges in the fatal shootings of three people at a church potluck dinner in June, according to court records made public Friday.

The Jefferson County grand jury indicted Robert Findlay Smith this week in connection with the June 16 shootings of Walter “Bart” Rainey, 84, of Irondale; Sarah Yeager, 75, of Pelham; and Jane Pounds, 84, of Hoover, reported.

Police responded June 16 to a report of an active shooter at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, a wealthy suburb of Birmingham. About 25 people, including Smith, had gathered late that afternoon for a “Boomers Potluck” dinner. He had previously attended some worship services and at least one of the previous potluck dinners there, authorities said.

Jefferson County prosecutors on Thursday presented the case to the grand jury, which returned indictments against Smith.

“Smith has been indicted for capital murder for killing two or more people,’′ District Attorney Danny Carr told Friday. “It is still very early in the prosecution of this case. We will be working closely with the families of those who lost their lives that terrible day … as we progress toward holding Smith accountable.”

Smith is being represented by attorneys Emory Anthony and Moses Stone. Anthony did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment. Stone’s telephone listing went unanswered. Smith remains without bond in the Jefferson County Jail. A trial date has not yet been set.

Smith was seated alone at the dinner when a longtime church member approached him and invited him to sit with others at a table, said the Rev. Doug Carpenter, who founded the church in 1973 and retired in 2005. Smith refused the offer, but then pulled out a handgun and shot three people, authorities and reports said.

A church member rushed the gunman, struck him with a chair and held him until officers arrived, according to police.

Rainey was pronounced dead on the scene. Yeager and Pounds were taken to a hospital where they later died.

Authorities said they have not yet identified a motive in the slayings.