NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The man accused of fatally shooting one person and wounding seven others at a Nashville church in 2017 testified Wednesday that he can’t remember if he did it.
In a Nashville courtroom, a prosecutor repeatedly asked 27-year-old Emanuel Kidega Samson about his testimony that he had spotty-at-best memories of what happened at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ, and the moments before and after the shooting.
Samson testified that his mental health disorders have caused lapses in memory and constant shifts from feelings of ecstasy to thoughts of suicide, which he said he had the morning of the shooting. He said he’s on medication now in jail and his thoughts have “slowed down drastically.”
Samson said his memory kicks in at the tail end of the church shooting, when he shot himself in the chest during a tussle with a congregant who authorities say saved lives.
In turn, Nashville Deputy District Attorney Amy Hunter asked Samson if he chooses what he wants to remember.
“So, you remember driving to the church. You remember being outside the church. You remember generally where you parked at the church,” Hunter asked. “You remember somebody walking by you when you were sitting out by the church. …You remember having the mask on. You remember having a gun. But, conveniently, you don’t remember shooting any of these people, or shooting at them. Is that right?”
“Yes, that’s right,” Samson replied.
Prosecutors have said they’re seeking life without parole for Samson, who faces a 43-count indictment, including a first-degree murder charge. The jury is expected to receive the case Thursday.
Samson, who used to attend the church, is black and the victims are white. Hunter has explained that a note in Samson’s car cited white supremacist Dylann Roof’s massacre at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. It also referred to the red, black and green Pan-African flag, sometimes called RBG.
“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 flag in terms of vengeance.” The note included an expletive and ended with a smiley face, Hunter said.
Samson said he can’t say whether or not he wrote the note.
But what he did say he remembers is writing what the defense described as a suicide note to his then-girlfriend that day.
“I’m terribly sorry for not living up to your expectations, my queen. It’s no secret that I never deserved you, so it’s just a bullet. Haha. Get it? LOL,” the note read in part, according to testimony.
“What I remember thinking and feeling those days, or that day in particular, is waking up and just wanting to end my life,” Samson said. “I was extremely depressive and I felt kind of numb.”
The judge limited what could be said in front of jurors about Samson’s mental illnesses Wednesday. Hunter said a mental health defense couldn’t be considered because a doctor previously “wouldn’t make a diagnosis that would say that he was acting in a particular way because of a mental health defense.”
Before the trial, the judge largely shielded details about the case from public view. At an open hearing in April, it was revealed that a psychiatrist diagnosed Samson with “schizoaffective disorder bipolar type” and post-traumatic stress disorder after an abusive, violent upbringing.
At one point Wednesday, with the jury out of the room, Samson’s father testified that he tried to convince authorities to take away Samson’s guns after he sent a suicidal text in the summer of 2017.
“They said no, that is his civil right and they cannot do it,” Vanansio Samson testified. “If (police) had detained him and taken him for an evaluation that time, because I believe that sickness was out there, we would have not been sitting here today, or this tragedy would have not happened.”