The man who fatally shot four people at a Tennessee Waffle House in 2018 believed his victims were government agents and that he had been instructed by God to kill them, his lawyer claimed in court Monday.
Defendant Travis Reinking, 32, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity at the proceeding, which included opening statements from both sides.
Reinkin opened fire with an AR-15 assault rifle inside the restaurant April 22, 2018, wearing nothing except a green jacket, authorities have said.
He killed four people before a man heroically wrestled the gun away from him. Reinking fled, prompting a massive two-day manhunt before he was finally arrested in the woods.
Defense lawyer Luke Evans said in court that his client suffers from schizophrenia, which has only gotten worse over the years.
Evans said Reinking was plagued by paranoia and several delusions, including that he was Taylor Swift’s boyfriend and she was stalking him and had broken into his home and sexually assaulted him.
“He believed he was communicating directly with God,” Evans said of his client at the time of the shooting.
“He believed regular people walking around were out to hurt him and had been hurting him. Mr. Reinking believed he was commanded by God to go to the Waffle House in defense of himself and other people. The people at Waffle House were, in his mind, government agents.”
Reinking is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of 29-year-old Taurean C. Sanderlin, 20-year-old Joe R. Perez, 23-year-old Akilah Dasilva and 21-year-old DeEbony Groves, 21. He also faces several counts of attempted first-degree murder.
To successfully prove that Reinking is not guilty by reason of insanity, Evans must show Reinking is mentally ill and that his mental illness rendered him unable to distinguish between right and wrong that day.
But Assistant District Attorney General Jan Norman argued Monday that Reinking made conscious choices in the killings. He noted that Reinking bought extra magazines the day before the shooting and decided to bring his most powerful firearm. He also said Reinking went to the Waffle House at 3:20 a.m., when it is especially busy.
“The proof in this case is that Travis Reinking made a choice,” Norman said. “He made several choices that led to the shooting.”
Metropolitan Nashville Police Officer Brett Johns, who was the first officer to respond to the scene, was brought to tears on the stand as he recalled the carnage he saw.
“I think about it a lot,” he said.
Johns described seeing Perez and Sanderlin dead outside of the establishment. Inside, he saw Groves and her sorority sister, Sharita Henderson, under a booth.
He said he believed them both to be dead — until Henderson made a noise. She was unable to talk but blinked to confirm she could understand him.
He recalled seeing Shantia Waggoner’s leg nearly blown off, held together “by very small amounts of skin and maybe some muscle.” Her boyfriend, Dasilva, kept saying that he was in pain, his arm hurt.
Dasliva’s brother, Abede Dasliva, testified that he tried to comfort his brother in his final moments. Abede said believed his brother had only been shot in the arm, but the bullet had actually punctured his lung.
“I was just laying there with him, telling him everything was going to be OK,” he said.
The last thing his brother said was, “I can’t breathe.”
With Post wires