NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Jurors returned to court Friday to deliberate the fate of the man accused of killing a woman and wounding seven people at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ.
Twenty-seven-year-old Emanuel Samson is charged with first-degree murder among other crimes in the 2017 shooting at the church.
Defense witnesses say he suffers from bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress after a violent childhood. His lawyers argued for criminally negligent homicide, not murder.
Prosecutors say he’s conveniently invoking mental illness to avoid responsibility. They’re seeking life without parole.
When Samson took the stand Wednesday, he said he only remembered driving before the attack and shooting himself inside the church but nothing else.
However, the state said at least one call contradicts his claim.
“Hey when I was on the floor bruh like I could (undecipherable) nah when I put the two bullets in my chest and laid down, and I was on the floor and I could hear what everyone was saying and some people were saying some funny s**t bruh,” Samson said.
The defense told the jury why they believe Samson was suicidal, not homicidal when he returned to his old church that day.
“He went to the church because he was struggling that day, because he remembered the Christianity there, he remembered the people there, and he was hoping that somebody there would do something to try to stop him,” said Samson’s attorney Jennifer Thompson.
Church members became upset when the state told the jurors why it believes Samson plotted the attack as revenge for the Charleston church shooting.
” He went inside and emptied round after round after round into the sanctuary, toward the parishioners hitting several of them in an effort to complete his goal,” said prosecutor Megan King. “He wasn’t able to complete his mission because of the bravery of Mr. Robert Caleb Engle. The defendant tried to destroy this church, but he could not.”
The defense believes Samson was startled when Melanie Crow-Smith, the only shooting victim who died, came into the parking lot; they maintain he didn’t mean to kill her.
Samson’s attorney also said Samson could have killed more people but didn’t.
“Emanuel Samson steps over these people to enter into the sanctuary. If it had really been his goal to kill ten people – one more than Dylan roof had killed – wouldn’t he have least turned around and finished those people off?” Thompson asked the jury.
Deliberations then began after the state and defense urged the jurors to see it their way.
Samson faces 43 felony counts, including Premeditated First-Degree Murder and Civil Rights Intimidation.
The rest of the charges range from Attempted First Degree Murder to Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon and Employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony.
The most serious charge of First Degree Murder also includes three lesser offenses the jury may consider. They include 2nd Degree Murder, Reckless Homicide and Criminally Negligent Homicide.
With so many charges to consider, it took Judge Cheryl Blackburn more than two hours to charge the jury.
After the jury moved out of the courtroom, the defense put Samson’s sister, Christina on the stand for an offer of proof. This is a legal maneuver that could be used in a potential appeal.
Samson’s sister testified about adverse childhood events that she says affected her brother. She said they grew up in a troubled household. They were abused, beaten, attacked with a knife. She also claims Emanuel was bullied in school
She testified that as an adult he had trouble sleeping and was afraid that someone was coming to kill him. She witnessed him trying to commit suicide.
Although the jury did not hear what she said and will not consider it as they deliberate the charges, she may testify at the sentencing hearing if the jury convicts Samson of murder.
Her testimony was put into the record as evidence that may be useful to the defense in the future.