Church slaying verdict: Life in prison

December 5, 2008 3:17:42 PM PST
A suburban Philadelphia woman has been sentenced to life in prison for shooting another member of her church. 66-year-old Mary Jane Fonder of Springfield Township was convicted in October of shooting 42-year-old Rhonda Smith on Jan. 23 inside the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Springfield Township.

Prosecutors say Fonder had romantic feelings for the pastor at the church and was jealous Smith was getting attention from him.

Before she was sentenced Friday, Fonder read a statement saying, quote, "I was not jealous, I am not that kind of person. In the name of God, I'm telling the truth. I did not kill Rhonda Smith."

Talking to reporters as she was taken out of the courthouse Friday, Fonder insisted she was innocent, and that she did not deserve life in prison.

"You don't say you're guilty when you're not, and I'm not," Fonder said.

The family of the victim saw it differently.

"The way I see it is, who's gun did the firing, where did the bullets come from, where did the bullets go?" said Jim Smith, the victim's father.

"It's very hurtful because I expected, at the end, for her to come through with everything," said Amber Smith, the victim's niece.

The assistant d.a. says he's not surprised at Fonder's defiance.

"She really thought she could get away with this, and but for a little boy going fishing with his dad and finding the gun, she may have very well gotten away with this," said prosecutor David Zellis.

The jury convicted Fonder after a nine-day trial. Fonder did not testify and her lawyer, Michael Applebaum, presented no evidence.

This case may be closed, but investigators are still looking into the disappearance of Fonder's father, who vanished in 1993.

They say that case is progressing, but are not ready to name her as a suspect at this point.

Click here to get the latest Philadelphia news and headlines from across the Delaware and Lehigh valleys.


Load Comments