NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A man who shot and killed four people at a Nashville Waffle House in 2018 posted videos to YouTube in the years before the killing where he spoke about unknown people who he believed were breaking into his home.
Attorneys for Travis Reinking played a video in court on Thursday that the 33-year-old made in 2017. In it he claims to know that someone was in his apartment because the toilet seat was left up, a door was cracked, and fingerprints were on his laptop.
“Why is somebody coming in my apartment and doing this stuff? Why is someone going into my bathroom?” he asks during the rambling monologue. Later he says, “They’re afraid and they expect me not to be? These people are insane. I don’t know why I have to be mean to people and call people names” to be left alone.
Reinking’s charges include four counts of first degree murder for killing Taurean Sanderlin, 29; Joey Perez, 20; Akilah Dasilva, 23; and DeEbony Groves, 21, in the early morning of April 22, 2018. Prosecutors are seeking a life prison sentence without the possibility of parole.
Reinking has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. To prove that, the defense has to convince the jury that Reinking’s mental illness made him unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions.
Reinking wrote in his journal that he believed people in the Waffle House were poisoning his food and repeating things he had written in his private journal. He said he prayed about what to do and received a command from God to shoot three people at the restaurant, according to testimony.
In cross-examination on Thursday, prosecutors tried to show that in spite of his paranoid delusions, Reinking knew that shooting people was wrong. A key question is whether Reinking believed he was acting in self-defense, as psychologists have testified, or whether he was acting out of revenge. He referenced both motives at different times in his writings and in interviews.
Davidson County Assistant District Attorney Jan Norman mentioned an incident days before the shooting in which Reinking stole a BMW from a dealership by pulling keys away from a salesperson. When the car was located by police and taken back the next day, Reinking wrote in his journal: “This time I would have to punish them by taking something they couldn’t take back, some of their own lives.”
Norman also emphasized Reinking’s own account of the shooting where 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.”
Asked if that wasn’t an indication that Reinking knew what he was doing was wrong, Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute psychologist Rena Isen said no. She said Reiking’s actions could be understood like that of someone in combat who is ordered to kill. That person might feel sick about it while still not believing it is wrong.
Prosecutors have also questioned the reliability of Reinking’s statements that he believed he was acting under directions from God. Norman pointed out that at one time Reinking said God spoke to him in the voice of actor Morgan Freeman. Later he said there was no voice, just a thought put in his head that he described as a “direct implant from God.”
Reinking also told psychologists that the CIA and FBI were trying to bait him into shooting people at the Waffle House, which Norman suggested was inconsistent with his statements that he was commanded by God to shoot people. Norman pointed out that Reinking shot more than three people. 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.
Defense attorneys do not dispute the basic facts of the case. Reinking was naked save for a green jacket when he opened fire inside the restaurant just after 3:20 a.m. on a Sunday. He fled, triggering a manhunt, after restaurant patron James Shaw Jr. wrestled his assault-style rifle away from him.
Shaw was among those survivors and first responders who gave emotional testimony about the shooting in the first two days of the trial.
On Thursday, prosecutors presented as a final piece of evidence two styrofoam food trays from the Nashville jail. Reinking had drawn on them in April 2019, about a year after the shooting. Both drawings show stick figures that appear to depict him shooting people outside the Waffle House. One of the drawings has a spaceship with aliens above the restaurant. Both show a patron inside using a racial slur. Reinking is white and his victims were Black and Hispanic.
Both sides have rested their cases. Closing arguments are scheduled for Friday.