EVERETT — Alan Smith allegedly confessed to killing his wife to a man he barely knew and then had the man baptize him hours later.
Wendell Morris Jr. testified Wednesday that Smith came to him for help in June 2013. The two had met at a church potluck a few weeks earlier. Smith was a suspect in his wife’s killing and his relationship with a mentally ill woman was unraveling. He and the woman recently had been asked not to return to the church that Morris attended.
“I’m walking off the ledge,” Morris recalled an emotional Smith saying as they sat outside a Seattle Starbucks.
Morris wanted to share God’s teachings with Smith. He also wanted to make sure the Bothell man was being truthful with him about the death of Smith’s wife.
Morris pressed Smith for an answer during their second meeting.
“‘I want you to know I did it. I did it to her,’” Morris quoted Smith saying during testimony Wednesday. The admission came as the two walked along Lake Union in Seattle, he said.
A couple of days later Morris called police and repeated the conversation to detectives. Smith was arrested that day, four months after Susann Smith, 37, was found beaten, stabbed and drowned in her Bothell home.
Snohomish County prosecutors are expected to rest Thursday in Smith’s first-degree murder trial. His defense attorney agreed to forgo a jury and let Superior Court Linda Krese decide the verdict. Smith, 39, faces decades behind bars if convicted.
Prosecutors allege the former Boeing engineer attacked his estranged wife as she slept because their divorce was costing him too much money and he feared that she was going to move back to Germany with their two young children.
Smith’s attorneys have said that someone else broke into Susann Smith’s house, rummaged through her wallet and then killed her. They point to trace amounts of unidentified DNA found at the scene, including on Susann Smith’s wrist and the front door.
In opening statements they also asked Krese to scrutinize the circumstances surrounding Smith’s conversation with Morris.
The defense had fought to keep the testimony out, arguing that the conversation was protected because the man is a licensed minister. Morris told detectives that he wasn’t acting as a clergyman when Smith allegedly made the statements.
Smith kept his eyes closed during most of Morris’ testimony Wednesday.
Morris said he had been told that Smith was under investigation for the February 2013 killing before they met months later at a potluck. He also had heard that Smith had asked to join the Bible study group that Morris led but the host had declined because of the police and media scrutiny Smith was facing.
Morris agreed to meet with Smith and his then-girlfriend, Love Thai, in mid-June 2013. The pair were upset that they had been asked not to return to church, not long after they began attending. Morris said he also wanted to confront Smith about his dealings with a younger church member. Morris was worried that they were a bad influence on the teen.
Morris and Smith met outside a Starbucks. Morris said he planned to point Smith toward God’s teachings for answers and guidance. He confronted Smith with the allegations that he was responsible for the slaying as the two sat in Smith’s car.
“I don’t know how safe it is to have that conversation here. We need to take a walk,” Morris recalled Smith saying.
The Seattle man was convinced then that Smith had murdered his wife. Morris testified that Smith confessed during their walk. He told Smith he was proud of him for being truthful. The men eventually made plans to find a church where Smith could be baptized.
That didn’t work out so Morris agreed to baptize Smith that night. He also tried to persuade Smith to turn himself into police.
On cross examination Morris said he was convinced before the alleged confession that Smith had murdered his wife. Defense attorney Tiffany Mecca pointed out that the two men had spoken for less than 20 minutes before Morris asked Smith about his wife’s death.
Mecca also elicited testimony from Morris that he didn’t tell Thai that her boyfriend had confessed to the killing. The defense attorney also focused in on Morris’ concerns about Smith’s conversations with the younger church member.