NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee jury deliberated less than two hours Tuesday before sentencing the man who shot up a Nashville church in 2017 to life in prison without possibility of parole.
On Friday, the jury found Emanuel Kidega Samson guilty of murder in the death of Melanie Crow. Samson also injured seven others during his rampage and will be sentenced on an additional 42 counts in July, though those sentences will be largely symbolic.
During the sentencing phase of Samson’s trial Tuesday, a psychiatrist testified that Samson suffered from severe mental illness. That evidence had been suppressed during the guilt phase of the trial because it did not meet criteria for an insanity defense.
Forensic psychiatrist Stephen Montgomery found Samson’s illness did not make him unable to premeditate his actions or stop him from appreciating their wrongfulness.
According to earlier testimony, on Sept. 24, 2017, Samson left his motor running as he stepped into the parking lot of the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ wearing a motorcycle-style clown mask and a tactical vest.
He shot and killed Crow as she walked to her car for a cough drop, scattering her Bible and her notes from church. Samson then followed up with a hail of bullets inside the church that he once attended.
In Samson’s car, investigators found a note that suggested the shooting was payback for a 2015 massacre at a South Carolina black church. Samson is black and his victims were white.
Psychiatrist Montgomery, in prerecorded testimony played for the jury Tuesday, said the note was bizarre because nothing else in the 27 year old’s history indicated racial hatred or ideology.
Montgomery said Samson is being treated for schizoaffective disorder and likely also suffered post-traumatic stress disorder from a childhood spent in a refugee camp in Africa and then an abusive home in the United States.
Defense attorney Jennifer Lynn Thompson argued for leniency, saying that even with parole, Samson would be 76 years old before he could leave prison. In closing arguments, she suggested to the jury that the “genuine Mr. Samson” was polite, kind and helpful, as some churchgoers recalled his demeanor in years before the murder.
Assistant District Attorney Amy Hunter said the jurors should remember Samson’s victims, including those who witnessed the shooting but were uninjured.
Hunter said she wants jurors to remember “the children who are now afraid to come back to church — the children who say, ‘If I go to church today, am I going to die?’”