Emanuel Kidega Samson will spend the rest of his life in prison for shooting and killing Melanie Crow in 2017 while she walked through the parking lot of her small Antioch church, a jury ruled Tuesday.
He will never be eligible for parole.
The Nashville jury — which already found Samson, 27, guilty of first-degree murder and 42 other criminal counts in the shooting at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ — decided on the strictest sentence possible in the case after less than two hours of deliberation.
Burnette Chapel members said afterward that the sentence brought justice and relief after more than a year of turmoil.
“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.”
Samson’s defense attorney Jennifer Thompson said she was planning to appeal.
Thompson said she hoped to see Tennessee law change to allow more discussion of mental illness during trial. Samson’s legal team was not allowed to discuss his mental health until after the jury reached its guilty verdict.
Crow was killed in the parking lot after Sunday service
The life sentence applies only to the first-degree murder charge. Judge Cheryl Blackburn could add more prison time for Samson during a separate sentencing hearing for the 42 other counts, which include seven counts of attempted murder for injuring other church members during the shooting.
Crow headed to the parking lot of Burnette Chapel after Sunday service on Sept. 24, 2017, to grab a cough drop. She planned to head back inside to mingle with her minister and others.
Terror overtook the familiar Sunday morning routine in an instant.
Samson shot Crow once in the face and three times in the back before she made it to her car. She died on the pavement.
When the sentencing hearing on the first-degree murder charge began Friday, Crow’s sister, friend and minister took the stand and spoke to the depth of their loss. They described a woman who had wrestled with anxiety and depression but had begun to improve.
“I was so excited just to see her happy again and just everything that was in her future,” Crow’s best friend and sister-in-law Amy Miner said.
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SOURCE: USA Today; Nashville Tennessean, Adam Tamburin