It took a Tennessee jury less than two hours of deliberation to sentence Emanuel Kidega Samson for his fatal role in a shooting at a Nashville church.
The Tennessean reports that the 27-year-old will spend the rest of his life in prison after he was found guilty of first-degree murder and 42 other counts in a 2017 shooting at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ that injured 7 and stole the life of 38-year-old Melanie Crow.
A psychiatrist confirmed that Samson suffered from severe mental illness, but did not meet the criteria in order to plead an insanity defense because his illness did not preclude him from premeditating his actions or appreciating their wrongfulness.
He is ineligible for parole.
“We’ve been holding our breath for going on two years,” church member Brenda Enderson said after the sentence was announced. “We can finally breathe out for the first time.”
On Sept. 24, 2017, Crow went to her car in the parking of the church to grab a cough drop when she was interrupted by gun fire. Samson shot Crow once in the face and three times in the back. She died on the pavement.
“I was so excited just to see her happy again and just everything that was in her future,” Crow’s sister-in-law, Amy Miner, said on the stand. Crow had grappled with bouts of anxiety and depression, but Miner was adamant that despite those challenges, Crow’s outlook was bright.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Crow’s sister Bridget Polson admitted that she’s still haunted from seeing her sister’s body torn apart by gunfire and that the entire family has struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder. In order to spare them from further anguish, Polson refused to allow other family members to see the body.
“They didn’t need to see her like that. They didn’t need that to be the last memory of her,” Polson said. “They said it felt like she had just disappeared.”
Yet despite the Crow family’s grief, Samson’s legal team tried their best to paint Samson as a sympathetic figure. Citing a childhood fraught with emotional abuse and trauma, they begged the jury to show Samson grace. Those pleas fell on deaf ears however, since he was given the strictest sentence possible.
“The children who are now afraid to come back to church,” Assistant District Attorney Amy Hunter told the jury, reminding them of Samson’s victims and those who witnessed his actions. “The children who say, ‘If I go to church today, am I going to die?’”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that investigators discovered a note in Samson’s car that suggested the shooting was in retaliation for the infamous South Carolina church shooting that occurred in 2015, being that Samson is black and each of his victims were white.
However, forensic psychiatrist Stephen Montgomery noted that Samson has no history of demonstrating behavior consistent with practicing racial hatred or ideologies.
Samson’s defense attorney Jennifer Thompson said she intends to appeal his sentence.