Emanuel Samson listens to testimony during the sentencing phase of his trial Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. Samson was convicted of murder for shooting up a Nashville church in 2017. He faces life in prison for killing Melanie Crow and wounding seven other people at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ. (Larry McCormack/The Tennessean via AP, Pool)

Jury deciding sentence of Tennessee church shooter

May 28, 2019 - 5:29 pm

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee man convicted of murder in a 2017 Nashville church shooting will spend at least 51 years in prison, but a jury was deciding on Tuesday whether he should have the possibility of parole.

During the sentencing phase of Emanuel Kidega Samson's trial, a psychiatrist testified he suffered from severe mental illness. That evidence had been suppressed during the guilt phase of the trial because it did not meet the criteria for an insanity defense

Forensic psychiatrist Stephen Montgomery found Samson's illness did not make him unable to premediate 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 Melanie 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 blaze of bullets inside the church that he once attended, injuring another seven people.

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 said 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?"

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