Violence 'extremely out of character' for pastor accused in triple homicide, friend says

Accused killer Kenneth Allen Keith is pastor of the Main Street Baptist Church (shown at top) in Burnside, south of Somerset. Police searched the church, the parsonage where Keith lives, and Gold Rush Gold Buyers in Somerset, shown in the bottom photo.
Accused killer Kenneth Allen Keith is pastor of the Main Street Baptist Church (shown at top) in Burnside, south of Somerset. Police searched the church, the parsonage where Keith lives, and Gold Rush Gold Buyers in Somerset, shown in the bottom photo. Lexington Herald-Leader

Minister Kenneth Allen Keith, accused in the September triple homicide at a Danville pawn shop, had "intimate knowledge" of details of the shooting, according to an arrest warrant available Thursday.

However, a former business partner and longtime friend of Keith told the Herald-Leader on Thursday that the alleged actions of the pastor, who had been treated for brain cancer, were "extremely out of character for him."

Keith was charged Wednesday in the deaths of Michael Hockensmith, 35; his wife, Angela Hockensmith, 38; and gold dealer Daniel Smith, 60. Witnesses told investigators that Keith knew "the number of wounds sustained by one of the victims" and "details pertaining to the robbery of the business and its occupants," the warrant said.

In addition to shooting the three at ABC Gold Games and More on South Fourth Street on Sept. 20, Keith removed property belonging to Daniel Smith from the business, the warrant said. That property was not identified in the warrant. Smith was known to frequent the shop, which Michael Hockensmith co-owned, to buy gold.

Keith's physical appearance matched numerous witness descriptions of a man seen nearby and leaving the business at the time the crimes were committed, according to the court document.

Witnesses said a man fled from the area in a newer model grey/silver van, and Keith owns a silver 2008 Dodge Caravan, the warrant said. Moreover, surveillance cameras captured images of a silver van that resembles Keith's near the pawn shop during the time of the killings, according to the warrant.

Keith, 48, of Burnside has been charged with three counts of murder and one count of first-degree robbery. Arraignment is scheduled for Oct. 16 in Boyle District Court.

Eugene Hollis, Keith's former business partner in a Somerset pawn shop and in the Danville shop ultimately sold to Hockensmith, said he had known Keith for almost 30 years. Keith has been involved in ministry throughout that time, Hollis said.

Keith was youth minister at Main Street Baptist in Burnside for a period, then went to a church in Lancaster for several years before returning to Main Street as pastor about six years ago, Hollis said.

Keith is married and has a young daughter, said Hollis, who lives in Somerset.

Hollis said he does not believe Keith committed the murders. Keith's life has been focused on his ministry and his family, Hollis said, and he said he does not believe Keith would do anything to jeopardize either.

"It's extremely out of character for him. He's not a violent person," Hollis said.

Hollis' wife, Delois, said Keith is "a loving, caring husband, father, minister."

Delois Hollis said people would sometimes borrow money from Keith at the pawn shop and renege on promises to repay.

"He'd just kind of laugh and say, 'We're in business to help people,'" Hollis said. "He loves people. He wanted to help people."

Eugene Hollis gave Keith the Somerset pawn shop Gold Rush Gold Buyers, in which they were partners, in April.

The Hollises said Keith had brain cancer and had received chemotherapy and radiation. The Hollises understood that Keith was cancer free, but still had a tumor in his head. Keith suffered severe headaches at times, the Hollises said.

The Hollises wondered whether a tumor could explain Keith's actions, if in fact he committed the murders as charged.

"Something bad, bad, bad wrong has happened if he did do this," Eugene Hollis said.

Boyle Commonwealth's Attorney Richie Bottoms said Thursday that he could not discuss possible motive or evidence at this point. He said he could not confirm Keith had been diagnosed with brain cancer.

"I'm 100 percent convinced that Mr. Keith did this," Bottoms said, "so I feel confident going forward with the prosecution of the case. The challenges are in the complication of handling a case with three deaths involved."

Bottoms said he had not decided whether to seek the death penalty because he had not consulted with the families of either the accused or the victims.

The case had consumed area law enforcement plus agencies that helped.

"There's been a tremendous amount of cooperation and good police work that has gone into this case really since the day that this terrible thing happened," Bottoms said. The Kentucky State Police; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; and the Somerset Police Department have helped the Danville Police Department.

"It's been virtually, I mean literally, almost 24 hours a day, each day, just with work on this case," Bottoms said. "They've done a tremendous job to get a case to this point."

The investigation culminated in Keith's arrest Wednesday after searches at three locations in Pulaski County: the Gold Rush store; Main Street Baptist Church in Burnside, where Keith serves as pastor; and a parsonage where Keith lives next to the church.

Residents of Burnside, a Pulaski County city with a population less than 700, were shaken by the pastor's arrest.

"People in this community are shocked by the events," said Burnside Police Chief Craig Whitaker.

Michael Hockensmith was a youth minister at a Baptist church in Mitchellsburg. His wife often helped him in the pawn shop. She also home-schooled the couple's 9-year-old son, Andrew, friends said.

Andrew was at the pawn shop with his sister, a 14-month-old toddler, when the robbery and shooting occurred. Andrew called 911, police said.

Keith was a former pastor of Michael Hockensmith. Keith attended the Hockensmiths' funeral, Michael Hockensmith's brother Tony Hockensmith told the Herald-Leader Wednesday.

On a Facebook page attributed to Keith, Keith praised the three victims after the shootings and posted that his heart was broken that they had been killed.

Keith went to Florida after the deaths and had recently returned to Kentucky, Bottoms said.

Tony Hockensmith said his brother bought the Danville pawn shop business from Keith a few months ago after managing the business for Keith for two years. Tony Hockensmith said he thought Keith had struggled financially and had to sell.

A company called FIA Card Services filed suit against Keith in Boyle County in September 2010, alleging he was past due $17,160 on a credit card. The lawsuit was dismissed in January 2013 at the request of the plaintiffs, according to court records.

A judge signed four default judgments against Keith between 2010 and 2012 in civil suits related to credit card debt, Boyle Circuit Court records show. The default judgments were ordered because, in each case, Keith did not defend or state his case.

The plaintiffs, the amount owed and the date of each default judgment were: American Express Bank, $13,633.08, June 12, 2010; Bank of America, N.A., $20,134.46, Oct. 14, 2010; Security Credit Services, $39,269.66 plus $2,873.14 accrued interest, June 9, 2011; and LNLV Funding LLC, $18,877.51 plus accrued interest of $3,231.42, July 20, 2012.

Tony Hockensmith also told the Herald-Leader he thought problems might have begun because Michael Hockensmith had been selling gold to Keith and then began selling to Daniel Smith.

Keith was being held without bond Thursday at the Boyle County jail.

"I think probably the feeling is that there's some relief that there is a resolution to the case," Boyle County Attorney Richard Campbell said Thursday. "I think that people's worst fear would have been that this crime would have been committed and we would have not been able to ascertain who committed it."

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