A former Boeing engineer convicted of murdering his estranged wife wasn’t able to convince the state Court of Appeals that his confession to a former pastor should have been protected by the clergy-penitent privilege.
Alan Smith is serving a 28-year sentence for the 2013 beating and drowning death of his wife, Susann Smith. The 37-year-old mother of two was found face down in the bathtub in her Bothell home. She’d been repeatedly beaten before she was dragged into the bathroom and drowned.
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Smith was convicted of first-degree murder following a bench trial. The state Court of Appeals recently denied his bid for a new trial.
Prosecutors alleged that Smith was angry because his divorce wasn’t going the way he wanted. He had racked up a large debt and feared that his wife was going to take their children to her native Germany.
Evidence showed that the killer carefully tried to cover his tracks. Bothell detectives never found the murder weapon, believed to be a rubber mallet.
Smith was arrested four months after the killing. A man he met at church reported that Smith confessed to the murder. Smith had sought the man’s advice on how to handle his then-girlfriend, a mentally ill woman. She later committed suicide.
In his appeal, Smith argued that Snohomish County Superior Court Linda Krese shouldn’t have allowed the man’s testimony. Smith claimed that the man was acting as a member of the clergy, and therefore their conversation was privileged. The man reported Smith’s comments to police when he couldn’t convince him to surrender to police.
The man had been an associate pastor at a Tacoma church but left and joined another church, where he was part of the congregation, but not a member of the clergy.
The state Court of Appeals found that the situation didn’t meet the criteria to be privileged. The man wasn’t acting as a licensed minister. He had no authority to act on behalf of his former church without the pastor’s supervision. Additionally, the church he was attending didn’t have a confession practice and “its policies specified that any information revealed in counseling was not confidential,” the court wrote.