Waffle House shooter gets life in prison without the possibility of parole
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A man who shot and killed four people at a Waffle House in Nashville in 2018 was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on Saturday.
Jurors handed down the sentence of Travis Reinking, 33, after hearing about two hours of testimony from family members of the four people killed. They were sobbing and shaking as they talked about their loved ones and how their loss continues to shatter their lives more than three years later. Jurors had the option of giving Reinking the option of parole after serving 51 years in prison.
Naked except for a green jacket, Reinking opened fire inside the restaurant just after 3:20 a.m. on April 22, 2018, killing 29-year-old Taurean Sanderlin; Joey Perez, 20; Akilah Dasilva, 23; and DeEbony Groves, 21. He fled after restaurant boss James Shaw Jr. snatched his assault rifle, sparking a manhunt.
“I’ve always been someone they say is unbreakable because no matter what our family has been through, I’ll always be the one to raise our family,” Patricia Perez said in tears of the loss of her son Joey. . “It broke me.”
On Friday, jurors rejected Reinking’s insanity defense, finding him guilty of 16 counts, including four counts of first-degree murder. The trial opened on Monday after jury selection the previous week. Prosecutors in 2020 indicated they would not seek the death penalty and would seek life without parole.
Reinking’s defense team, which did not call any sentencing witnesses on Saturday, argued for the possibility of parole, saying he was mentally free. Prosecutors argued that evidence shows Reinking planned the attack and wanted to kill everyone at the restaurant.
Prosecutors also drew the attention of jurors to the heartbreaking testimonies of family members. Shaundelle Brooks said her son Akilah Dasilva was a gifted artist, brilliant student and talented musician who built his own computer to work on his music, which he used to urge people to turn away from gun violence.
“He loved his family, but most of all Akilah wanted to live,” Brooks said tearfully. “He wanted to create positive change in this world. He showed compassion, not anger. He spread love, not hate.”
Evidence at trial showed Reinking suffered from schizophrenia and suffered from delusions for years, believing strangers tormented him. He contacted law enforcement several times to report that he was being threatened, stalked and harassed. In July 2017, he was arrested by the Secret Service after venturing unarmed into a restricted area on the grounds of the White House and asking to meet then-President Donald Trump.
The Illinois State Police, where he was living at the time, revoked the identification of the Reinking State gun owner. But that only meant he had to hand over his guns to someone else with a valid ID. Reinking returned the guns to his father, who then returned them to his son.
Since law enforcement refused to take his delusions seriously, Reinking began to feel that they and other random people were part of a conspiracy against him, psychologists testified. Shortly before the attack, he believed someone had drugged him, broken into his apartment, and raped him. Reinking told psychologists that while praying for what to do, he was told by God to go to the Waffle House and shoot three people.
To prove that Reinking was not guilty by reason of insanity, the defense lawyers had to show not only that he suffered from a serious mental illness which prevented him from understanding 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 left the crime scene, when he was captured nearly two days later he was fully clothed and carrying a backpack loaded with bottled water, sunscreen, a pistol, ammunition, a Bible and several silver bars. And they mentioned that he asked to speak to a lawyer after his arrest.
Prosecutors suggested Reinking was acting out of revenge. He noted that days before the shooting, Reinking had stolen a BMW from a dealership. Reinking wrote in a diary about his plans to go to Colorado, describing a life in which he would hang out with friends, smoke marijuana, hike in the mountains and “take back” cars and houses so as not to have to work, a prosecutor said. .
After police recovered the BMW the next day, he wrote, “This time I should punish them by taking something they couldn’t take back, a part of their own life,” the prosecutor said.
Prosecutors also pointed to Reinking’s own account of the shooting: He said that after he killed Perez, “I felt like I was going to vomit because it was something God told me to do, but it was wrong.”
The jury also found Reinking guilty of four counts of attempted first degree murder and four counts of unlawful use of a firearm while committing or attempting to commit a dangerous crime. In addition to the four people he killed, he seriously injured Sharita Henderson and Shantia Waggoner. Kayla Shaw and James Shaw Jr., who are unrelated, suffered less serious injuries.