By Ronnie Ellis
From Associated Press and CNHI News reports
MADISON COUNTY —
A small-town pastor charged in a triple slaying at a central Kentucky pawn shop had attended the funeral of two of the victims, offering his condolences to relatives who thought he was a sympathetic mourner but now are sickened that he’s accused in the shootings.
Kenneth Allen Keith, pastor of Main Street Baptist Church at Burnside in Pulaski County, was arrested Wednesday and charged with three counts of murder and one count of robbery.
Days after the Sept. 20 triple slaying in Danville, Keith had gone to the funeral of two of the victims — Michael Hockensmith and his wife Angela. Keith and Michael Hockensmith had struck up a friendship in church years ago.
Michael Hockensmith, 35, counted Keith as a close friend and fellow Christian — and the arrest and charges announced by authorities jolted relatives of the man and his 38-year-old wife.
“To find that out, it made me sick,” Hockensmith’s brother, Tony Hockensmith, said in an interview Thursday. “It was like somebody kicked me in the stomach.”
Keith, 48, showed up for the couple’s funeral, shook hands with Hockensmith’s mother and grandmother and told them he had known Hockensmith well, relatives say.
“He just said he was so sorry for our loss,” said Hockensmith’s mother, Barbara Lewis. “It’s kind of like he was trying to play innocent.”
Police haven’t said anything about a possible motive in the slayings. Keith was being held in the Boyle County Detention Center.
Daniel P. Smith, 60, of Madison County, also died in the shootings Sept. 20 at a pawn shop called ABC Gold, Games and More in Danville.
According to people who knew him, Smith called on pawn shops to buy gold. He was a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War, according to his obituary.
The criminal complaint indicated that during the investigation, police learned Keith had “intimate knowledge” of the shooting. Those specifics included the number of wounds sustained by one victim and details about the robbery of the business. Also, police were given a description of a man seen near the pawn shop that matched Keith’s appearance. One witness described seeing a man leaving the area in a gray/silver van. Keith owns a silver minivan, the complaint said.
Keith’s arraignment is set for Wednesday in Danville. There was no indication yet whether Keith had obtained an attorney, according to the local circuit court clerk’s office.
A day after the killings, Keith expressed his sympathy on what appeared to be his Facebook page, according to the Commonwealth-Journal newspaper in Somerset.
“No sleep at all, I am just in shock right now over this loss of three great people. We never know what is coming on the next breeze so breathe deep the breath God gives you now,” Keith posted, according to the newspaper.
Relatives of the victims were left wondering what happened to land Keith in jail on charges of killing a close friend, his friend’s wife and another person.
Michael Hockensmith and Keith became friends years ago when Keith was youth minister at Main Street Baptist Church, Hockensmith’s brother said.
Their friendship turned into a business relationship. Michael Hockensmith worked at Keith’s pawn shops in Somerset and Danville. Wanting to run a business of his own, Hockensmith and his wife acquired the Danville pawn shop from Keith a few months prior to the shootings there, Tony Hockensmith said.
The transaction apparently didn’t go smoothly, he said, and there had been conflicts over certain terms. He didn’t know the details.
Also, Michael Hockensmith had been selling gold to Keith, who has a gold-buying business in Somerset, but had shifted his business elsewhere, the brother said.
Michael Hockensmith had followed his friend into ministry and served as a youth minister at a Baptist church near Danville.
He saw the pawn shop as an opportunity to reach out to those who might be in financial trouble, his brother said.
“He didn’t feel like you had to be in a church to be able to minister,” he said.
The Hockensmiths had two children, a 9-year-old boy and a 1-year-old girl. Both were at the store at the time of the shootings but were unharmed. They are now living with their grandparents.