Waffle House shooter found guilty on 4 counts of murder
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A man who shot and killed four people at a Nashville Waffle House in 2018 was found guilty on four counts of first-degree murder Friday by a jury that rejected his insanity defense.
Travis Reinking, 33, did not dispute the details of the shooting, which was caught on surveillance video and witnessed by numerous people.
Naked save for a green jacket, Reinking opened fire inside the restaurant just after 3:20 a.m. on April 22, 2018, killing Taurean Sanderlin, 29; Joey Perez, 20; Akilah Dasilva, 23; and DeEbony Groves, 21. He fled after restaurant patron James Shaw Jr. wrestled his assault-style rifle away from him, triggering a manhunt.
Reinking looked in the direction of his parents, sitting in the gallery, after the jury read the first of 16 guilty verdicts, but otherwise showed minimal reaction. Meanwhile, survivors of the shooting and family members sitting across the aisle audibly gasped, crying and hugging as they left the courtroom.
Evidence presented during the trial showed Reinking had schizophrenia and had suffered delusions for years, believing that unknown people were tormenting him. He contacted law enforcement several times to report that he was being threatened, stalked and harassed. In July 2017, he was detained by the Secret Service after he ventured unarmed into a restricted area on the White House grounds and demanded to meet with then-President Donald Trump.
His behavior was so alarming that state police in Illinois, where he lived at the time, revoked Reinking’s state firearms owner identification. But that only meant he had to turn over his guns to someone else with valid identification. Reinking surrendered the guns to his father, who later returned them to his son.
Since law enforcement declined to take his delusions seriously, Reinking began to feel that they and other random people were part of a conspiracy against him, psychologists testified at trial. Shortly before the attack, he believed that someone had drugged him, broken into his apartment and raped him. Reinking told psychologists that while praying about what to do, he received a command from God to go to the Waffle House and shoot three people.
To prove Reinking was not guilty by reason of insanity, defense attorneys had to show not only that he suffered from a severe mental illness, but also that the illness left him unable to understand the wrongfulness of his actions.
Prosecutors presented evidence that Reinking was calm and cooperative after his arrest, able to understand and respond to commands. Although Reinking was naked when he walked from the crime scene, when he was captured nearly two days later, he was dressed and carrying a backpack loaded with water bottles, sunscreen, a pistol, ammunition, Bible and several silver bars. And they mentioned he had asked to talk to an attorney after his arrest.
Davidson County Assistant District Attorney General Ronald Dowdy suggested that Reinking was acting out of revenge. He noted that days before the shooting, Reinking stole a BMW from a dealership. Reinking wrote in a journal about plans to drive to Colorado, describing a life in which he would hang out with friends, smoke marijuana, hike in the mountains and “repossess” cars and houses so that he would not have to work, Dowdy said.
After police took the BMW back the next day, he wrote, “This time I would have to punish them by taking something they couldn’t take back, some of their own lives,” the prosecutor said.
“He got upset, and so he drove to that Waffle House angry, because he wanted to exact the same kind of pain and suffering that he felt on others,” Dowdy said during closing arguments.
Prosecutor Jan Norman also emphasized Reinking’s own account of the shooting: He said that after killing Perez, “I felt like I was going to throw up because this was something God told me to do but it felt evil.”
The jury on Friday also convicted Reinking on four counts of attempted first-degree murder and four counts of unlawful employment of a firearm during commission of or attempt to commit a dangerous felony. In addition to the four people he killed, he seriously wounded Sharita Henderson and Shantia Waggoner. Kayla Shaw and James Shaw Jr., who are not related, suffered lesser injuries.
The jury will reconvene on Saturday to hear victim impact statements and consider a sentence. Prosecutors have asked for life in prison without the possibility of parole.
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