He’s accused of killing a woman and wounding seven other people at a Nashville church in September 2017.
Now prosecutors say it was a race-motivated crime, and that the black suspect wanted to kill at least 10 white worshippers to avenge the June 2015 massacre at a church in South Carolina.
In her opening statement, Nashville Deputy District Attorney Amy Hunter said that 27-year-old Emanuel Samson referenced the shooting carried out by white supremacist Dylann Roof at the Mother Emanuel AME Church. It was in a note police found in his car outside the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ.
“Dylann Roof is less than nothing,” the note read, Hunter said. “The blood that 10 of your kind will shed is that of the color upon the RBG [Pan-African] flag in terms of vengeance.” The note included an expletive and ended with a smiley face, Hunter said.
Hunter said there was plenty of evidence to convict.
“This state will prove beyond all reasonable doubt that on Sept. 24, 2017, this defendant, Emanuel Kidega Samson, went to the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ with the intent to murder a minimum of 10 white churchgoers on that day,” Hunter said. “You won’t have to take the state’s word for it though.”
Samson’s attorney is Jennifer Lynn Thompson. She claimed that Samson’s true intention was to kill himself, and in court said her client left a suicide note for his girlfriend and sent a goodbye video to his cousin.
“What this case is about is a man who was very sad, very suicidal, and he was looking to die that day,” Thompson told jurors Monday.
Many of the details of the case are being kept secret until the trial, per a judge’s order.
There was a hearing in April where a psychiatrist weighed in. He diagnosed Samson with “schizoaffective disorder bipolar type” and post-traumatic stress disorder after an abusive, violent upbringing.
Prosecutors are seeking life without parole for Samson. He faces a 43-count indictment, including a first-degree murder charge.
The massacre killed 38-year-old Melanie L. Crow of Smyrna, Tenn. She was murdered in the church parking lot, where she dropped her Bible and notes from a recently concluded worship ceremony when she was shot, Hunter said.
“When Melanie Crow left the church that day to go to her car, she never got there because she had to pass by the defendant in his vehicle,” Hunter said. “He shot her in her face and then three additional times in the back.”
The courtroom was packed with members of the church. There were many times where they became emotional when attorneys and witnesses recounted a Sunday filled with chaos, tragedy and heroism.
One of those parishioners was Robert Caleb Engle. He testified that during the rampage, he twice confronted the gunman, who was wearing a tactical vest and a motorcycle-style mask with a clown smile on it.
Engle was pistol-whipped three times in the head, but at one point pushed the gun back on the shooter and a shot fired, hitting the gunman and sending him to the ground.
That’s when Engle’s father kicked the gun away, stood on the shooter’s hand and told Engle to go get his gun out of his truck.
Engle returned with his own weapon, put his foot on the shooter’s back and stood guard until police arrived.
According to Metropolitan Nashville Police Sgt. Geoffrey Craig, he almost shot Engle when he saw him standing guard over Samson, only to be stopped by Engle’s father.
“I could hear somebody yell ‘Don’t shoot my son,'” Craig said. “‘That’s my son.'”