NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Emanuel Samson, the gunman who terrorized a Tennessee church in 2017, killing one and injuring seven others, has been sentenced to life in prison without parole.
According to The Tennessean, a jury found Samson guilty of first-degree murder on Friday and decided Tuesday to issue the most stringent sentence possible. He was also declared guilty on 42 other counts, including attempted murder, but has not yet been sentenced on those counts.
A number of members of the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch attended Samson’s trial and held hands as the verdict was being read. Outside of the courthouse, many embraced each other and cried.
“When you come out that courtroom door, it bursts loose,” Joey Spann, the pastor of the church, who lost a finger in the attack and reportedly still has a bullet in his chest, told reporters. “We feel like justice has happened.”
As previously reported, Samson, now 27, reportedly was wearing a mask and holding two pistols when he arrived at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Sept. 2017 shortly after the end of the morning service.
He first came in contact with member Melanie Smith, 39, as she was walking to her car, and shot her to death. Samson then proceeded to enter the church where he “began indiscriminately shooting” at those inside, according to police.
Among those hit was minister Spann, who did not think he was going to survive the incident after being shot in the chest upon throwing a container at Samson in an attempt to stop the gunman once he stepped in the door.
“Honey, he’s killed me. I’m dying, and I’m sorry,” he remembered telling his wife as he lay bleeding on the floor.
“He was reloading; he was gonna kill everybody there, I think,” Spann also recalled to reporters.
Robert “Caleb” Engle, now 24, an usher, then confronted Samson, being pistol-whipped by the assailant. He went to his vehicle to obtain his own pistol, as he had a permit to legally carry a firearm.
“There was a significant struggle between the two,” Nashville Police spokesman Don Aaron told NBC News. “During the struggle, the gunman shot himself — probably not intentionally — in the left pectoral muscle.”
Engle then ensured that Samson stayed still on the floor until police arrived on the scene.
Following the incident, some members of the congregation advised that Samson had attended the church in years past. A 2010 post on his Facebook page reveals that Samson, at one point, was aspiring to be a preacher.
“I came too long of a way — all the way from Africa — to come to America and fail. I must say, that’s a complete no-no!” Samson, who immigrated to the U.S. from Sudan in 1994, wrote. “I’m aiming at [being a] psychologist; but also becoming a preacher. Either way, it may go in my life as I pursue to do what the Lord has called me to do…”
Although it is not known as to when, he also liked a number of Christian-themed pages, including “I Love Jesus,” “Resolved to Know Christ, “Reaching the Lost” and “Jesus the Savior,” and liked the films “Passion of the Christ” and “Left Behind.”
However, Samson also posted or liked much material that was laden with profanity, violence or other ungodly thought, and in the hours before the shooting, expressed instability as he wrote, “Become the creator instead of what’s created. Whatever you say goes.”
“Everything you’ve ever doubted or made to be believed as false, is real and vice versa,” Samson also posted.
A month before the shooting, he posted a video about the “laws of Karma,” and also shared a photo of a boy meditating, who he referred to as “my young god.” On July 31, 2017 he posted a link entitled “Boyfriends Ranked Best to Worst Based on Their Zodiac,” and days prior, he shared an article about being “awakened” that featured a photo of a “third eye.”
In October, Metro Homicide Detective Steve Jolley testified in Davidson County Criminal Court that Samson told him that he had been hearing voices.
“He made some comments about visions and voices a couple of times,” he said. “He was kind of indicating that he heard voices, and he had seen an image about that particular church. When I tried to get him to elaborate on it, he was very vague, and I couldn’t get him to elaborate on anything.”
Samson’s father likewise told those in the courtroom last week that his son had mental health issues and that he was supposed to take medication, but sometimes did not. He said that he feared that his son would take his life, and advised that Samson was having visions. He outlined that he told his son to put his Bible under his pillow to keep the demons away, according to local television station WTVF.
Samson’s father also testified that he called the police and asked that they take his guns away, but was told that they could not.
Samson himself was brought to the stand, and told those gathered that he does not remember most of the incident, but recalls that he had been having hallucinations in the weeks leading up to the attack.
“What I remember thinking and feeling in those days or that day in particular is waking up and wanting to end my life. I was extremely depressed and I felt kind of numb,” he said.
However, prosecutors pointed to a note found in Samson’s car that read, “Dylann Roof is less than nothing. The blood that 10 of your kind will shed is that of the color of the RBG flag (in terms of vengeance). One up [expletive].” They argued that Samson had planned an attack as revenge on Roof’s 2015 deadly assault on a black church in South Carolina.
Prosecutors also played the jail phone calls between Samson and his ex-girlfriend to exemplify that the gunman had no remorse.
According to the Tennessean, Samson’s defense attorney, Jennifer Thompson, argued that Samson never planned to shoot anyone that day but rather went to the church for help with his suicidal depression. Some members of the church said that they do not believe the assertion.
Spann and others told reporters that they hope Samson gets his life straightened out in prison, stating, “[T]here’s always that chance he’ll change and be alright.”
Luke 9:54-56 says, “And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, even as Elias did?’ But he (Jesus) turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.'”