Crime

Ex-preacher pleads guilty to murder of three in pawn shop, will serve life without parole

Kenneth Allen Keith in court on Friday, when he pleaded guilty to to three counts of murder. Keith was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Kenneth Allen Keith in court on Friday, when he pleaded guilty to to three counts of murder. Keith was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. gkocher@herald-leader.com

A former Pulaski County preacher pleaded guilty Friday to three counts of murder in the 2013 shooting deaths of three people at a Danville pawn shop.

In exchange for the plea, Kenneth Allen Keith, 51, former pastor of Main Street Baptist Church in Burnside, began his sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“You’re sure this is what you want to do?” Boyle Circuit Judge Darren Peckler asked Keith.

“Yes, your honor,” Keith said.

Keith could have faced the death penalty had he been convicted at trial.

Keith was charged with murder in the shooting deaths of Michael Hockensmith, 35, and his wife, Angela, 38, both of Stanford, and gold broker Daniel Smith, 60, of Richmond, in September 2013 at a Danville pawn shop co-owned by the Hockensmiths.

Michael Hockensmith had previously worked for Keith at the Danville pawn shop before assuming ownership and changing the business name.

MichaelHockensmithAngelaHockensmith
Michael and Angela Hockensmith. Photos provided

The victims were shot in the presence of the Hockensmiths’ 9-year-old son and 14-month-old daughter. The boy, Andrew, called 911 shortly after 9 a.m. to report that his parents had been shot.

Keith had no criminal history but had a permit to carry a concealed deadly weapon, according to court records.

Danville police were familiar with Keith because they had routine contact with him when he was the owner of King’s Corner Pawn Shop, which had formerly occupied the building of ABC Gold Games and More, the name of the business at the time of the shooting.

Keith also pleaded guilty to the robbery and burglary of the pawn shop. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison on each count.

As part of the plea agreement, $65,000 taken during the robbery will be paid to the estate of Daniel Smith, the gold broker, Commonwealth’s Attorney Richie Bottoms said.

An additional $36,948 seized by police from the Gold Rush Gold Buyers store that Keith operated in Somerset will go to his wife, Tracy Keith. The defense contended that the money belonged to her, and they cited as proof a ledger entry.

Still unanswered is the motive for the shootings, although relatives might have received some answers Friday during a private post-hearing briefing with police.

Smith’s oldest child, Crystal Keepes, 41, of Clarksville, Tenn., said she’s thankful that the case is over and that “Andrew (the Hockensmiths’ son) doesn’t have to testify,” she said. “That’s a real relief for all of us.

“Now is a time for healing and forgiving and being able to move forward.”

Asked whether she could forgive Keith, Keepes said: “I feel very much that I have forgiven him already. I’m not willing to let unforgiveness be the thing that holds me back.”

Andrew Hockensmith turned 13 Friday. “It’s the best birthday present I ever could get,” he said of Keith’s guilty plea.

Barbara Lewis of Somerset, Michael Hockensmith’s mother, said she is “glad that we can all put it behind us and go on.”

Charlene Worley of Somerset, Angela Hockensmith’s mother, said she was not surprised that Keith entered a guilty plea.

“God gave me the assurance,” she said.

Public defender Sam Cox said the plea was good for everyone.

“It doesn’t bring anybody back,” said Teresa Whitaker, another public defender who represented Keith.

If typical procedures are followed, Keith will be assessed in LaGrange and then will be transferred to a prison, Cox said.

Keith was initially represented by Somerset attorney Mark Stanziano, who was shot and killed in 2014 in front of his Somerset office.

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