Less than two years after Emanuel Samson opened fire on churchgoers in Tennessee, a trial has begun as he faces 43 charges, including first-degree murder, civil rights intimidation and 24 counts of aggravated assault.
Samson, who is Black, opened fire at a Nashville church on Sept. 24, 2017. Shots rang out following service at predominantly white Burnette Chapel Church of Christ that day, when he fatally a woman and injured seven others.
During opening statements Monday, May 20, the Tennessean reported Deputy District Attorney Amy Hunter said Samson left a note on the dashboard of his SUV noting he planned to retaliate against the shooting for which white supremacist Dylann Roof has been sentenced to death. Roof opened fire on guests at the predominantly Black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and killed nine worshippers in 2015.
“Dylann Roof is less than nothing,” Hunter read of the note, which also said “the blood that 10 of your kind will shed … in terms of vengeance.”
The note was previously only described in vague terms by police. Prosecutors are pursuing an enhanced sentence of life without parole in the case. The DA is not seeking the death penalty, according to the local newspaper.
A prosecutor said Samson arrived at Burnette “with the intent to murder a minimum of 10 white churchgoers.”
After witnesses recounted the horrific details of the day, which included victims collapsing as blood pooled around them, Hunter discussed the
“mountain of evidence” she says points to the notion that 27-year-old native of Sudan planned the attack. She said that the suspect attended Burnette and provided a photo of a T-shirt investigators said Samson wore underneath his jacket, which had gun targets shaped like people on it.
Hunter indicated that if it were not for the actions of “true-life hero” and church member Caleb Engle, who stepped in and tackled Samson, “perhaps we would have more than one count of premeditated murder.” She said Samson had reloaded his gun before Engle got involved.
Meanwhile, Samson’s attorney disputed Hunter’s argument to a degree, saying “the intent is not the way the state says.”
Instead, defense attorney Jennifer Thompson said her client arrived at the church intending to die of suicide.
“What this case is about is about a man who was very sad, very suicidal,” she said. “He wanted to die.”
On day 2 of the trial Tuesday, the Tennessean reported witnesses provided details that backed Hunter’s claim and remarked on multiple guns authorities discovered around Samson and in his SUV. They also described unused rounds of ammunition cops said they located in the tactical vest Samson wore during the shooting.
At a hearing in April, a psychiatrist said in court that Samson suffered from “schizoaffective disorder bipolar type” and PTSD, according to the Tennessean.
“It appears that Mr. Samson’s actions were driven by his mental disease,” Dr. Stephen Montgomery said in a written report presented to the court. “His angry thoughts towards himself were somehow projected outward toward others.”