Man charged in Alabama church shooting fighting mental test

Posted at 1:22 PM, November 7, 2022 and last updated 10:22 PM, July 6, 2023

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A man facing a potential death penalty in the killing of three people who were shot at an Alabama church dinner in June is fighting a court-ordered mental evaluation requested by prosecutors.

This booking photograph released by the Jefferson County Jail in Birmingham, Ala., shows Robert Findlay Smith, who was charged with capital murder on Friday, June 17, 2022, in a shooting that killed three people at an Alabama church. (Jefferson County Jail via AP)

Robert Findlay Smith, 70, hasn’t told a court he plans to use a defense of insanity or mental illness and shouldn’t have to undergo psychological testing at a state facility unless he does so, the defense argued in a brief objection filed Friday.

RELATED: Gunman kills 3 seniors at “Boomers Potluck” dinner at Alabama church

Circuit Judge Teresa Pulliam, who approved prosecutors’ request for an outpatient mental evaluation the day before, hadn’t ruled on Smith’s motion on Monday. Pulliam’s order said she had received information indicating the man may not be able to help with his defense.

A Jefferson County grand jury indicted Smith on capital murder charges in the shootings of Walter “Bart” Rainey, 84, of Irondale; Sarah Yeager, 75, of Pelham; and Jane Pounds, 84, of Hoover. They were killed during a potluck dinner at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills on June 16.

After sitting by himself at the event, Smith pulled out a gun and started shooting without explanation, authorities have said. A longtime church member intervened by hitting the shooter with a chair and restraining him until police arrived, police said.

Police barricade off the area after a shooting at the Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church on Thursday, June 16, 2022 in Vestavia, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

The district attorney’s office sought mental testing for Smith, citing the fact that prosecutors are seeking the death penalty and what they called Smith’s “bizarre behavior” of shooting “innocent persons who had not harmed him in any way.” State law allows reviews in such instances, prosecutors said in asking for the evaluation.

While Smith filed court papers last month indicating he would use an insanity defense, his attorney later said the document was submitted by mistake, prosecutors argued. The defense has said it is compiling a cost estimate for a private mental evaluation of Smith, who is being held without bond, records show.