Jurors in the Emanuel Samson trial listened to eight hours of graphic testimony on the first day of the trial.
One of the people who testified was Catherine Dickerson. She was shot in the leg on September 24, 2017, while in the parking lot of the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ.
Dickerson said she ran inside the church, crawled underneath a water fountain and put her purse over her face.
“I had always heard that people die with their eyes open and I didn’t think I could keep my eyes open without blinking so that’s why I put the purse there, so he couldn’t see me blink or anything,” Dickerson said on the stand. “And I wound up just closing my eyes. And I didn’t open them until the gun was shooting and I could hear people moving around.”
Dickerson wore the same dress on the stand that she wore the day of the shooting.
Then, one by one, prosecutors called others who were shot, mostly elderly, to the stand so they could also recount the moments they heard gunshots and felt the bullets penetrating their bodies.
Burnette Chapel Church Pastor Joey Spann also took the stand. He said he greeted 39-year-old Melanie Crow-Smith after the service ended.
Crow-Smith then left the church to get a cough drop. Prosecutors say that once she left the church, Samson shot in her the face. She died almost immediately.
Pastor Spann said when he saw a large man with a gun, he yelled for everyone to run and threw a small prayer box at Samson.
Spann was shot in the chest and the finger. He was able to recover and return to the pulpit four months after the attack.
Samson faces 43 counts in connection with the shooting, which left 7 people injured and one dead. Samson was once a member and even worked with children at the church’s Vacation Bible School.
Samson’s defense attorneys maintain that the 27-year-old was suicidal the day of the shooting and that the plan was not pre-meditated.
The church usher who stopped the shooter also testified.
Caleb Engle said he tried to stop the gunman once by grabbing his weapon. Instead, he grabbed the suspect’s leather jacket.
Engle said he was pistol-whipped and he fell back into a pew.
The suspect continued to walk up and down the aisles and when he came towards Engle again, Engle stepped in front of him.
“He had extended his arm. The only thing I can remember is I shoved my left arm out in front of him,” he said. “Then, I heard a gunshot. We stood there for what seemed like an eternity. I looked down at myself and I looked at him and then he fell down on the floor.”
Caleb Engle was able to stop the shooter and hold him until police arrived.
Sgt. Geoffrey Odom was the first police officer to arrive on the scene that Sunday morning. He went into the church without backup and immediately saw Engle with a gun. Odom initially thought Engle was the suspect.
“I could hear somebody yell ‘don’t shoot my son, that’s my son!’ So I refocused off the pistol and onto him and I could see him standing there. He was wearing a button-down white shirt, a tie, dark-colored slacks and dress shoes. And then I challenged him to see if he was going to turn and point the pistol in my direction. He looked over at me but didn’t. He was a threat, but the pistol wasn’t aimed in my direction at that time so I challenged him again and he just took the pistol and kind of pointed it away from me and sat it down in a pew.”
Odom approached, saw Samson lying face-down on the ground, motionless. He was rushed to Vanderbilt Medical Center, where he recovered.