KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — An out-of-work truck driver smiled Monday as he pleaded guilty to killing two people and wounding six others at a Tennessee church last summer because he hated its liberal politics.
"Yes, ma'am, I am guilty as charged," Jim D. Adkisson, 58, told Criminal Court Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz before she sentenced him to life in prison without parole.
Adkisson was scheduled to stand trial next month in the July 2008 rampage at the Tennessee Valley United Unitarian Church in Knoxville, but decided to enter a plea deal that virtually guarantees he will never leave prison alive.
Public defender Mark Stephens said a mental health expert determined Adkisson was competent to make the plea, though Stephens was prepared to argue at trial that his client was insane at the time of the crime. Adkisson believed entering the plea was "the honorable thing to do," Stephens said.
'Responsible for his woes'
Assistant District Attorney Leslie Nassios said Adkisson gave a statement to police and left a suicide note. They showed he planned the attack on the church, where his ex-wife was once a member, because he hated the church's liberal politics and Democrats, whom he believed "were responsible for his woes."
The Unitarian Universalist church promotes progressive social work, including advocacy of women and gay rights.
Evidence would show Adkisson bought the shotgun a month before the attack, sawed off the barrel at his home and carried the weapon into the church in a guitar case that he bought two days before the shooting. He had more than 70 shotgun shells with him and planned to keep firing until officers killed him, police have said. But church members intervened and wrestled him to the ground.
Victims and church members wept as the prosecutor described the wounds that killed longtime church member Greg McKendry, 60, who blocked the shots from hitting others, and retired English professor, Linda Kraeger, who had come to see the play. The church honored them during a 60th anniversary celebration on Sunday.
Two survivors each lost vision in one eye, one was left in a coma for several days after the shooting and another has endured several follow-up surgeries since.
"I think I am going to move on," said victim Tammy Sommers, 38, who suffered a traumatic brain injury and only recently returned to work. "But he is in prison ... and I want him to stay in prison."
Several church members felt Adkisson showed no remorse.
"When he came into the courtroom, he had a look of sheer evil on his face. He really did. Evil as well as arrogance," said Vicki Masters, who directed the children's play.
The judge gave Adkisson a chance to talk to the congregation before sentencing him.
"No, ma'am," he snapped. "I have nothing to say."
"He is in the right place, and I am very satisfied," said Brian Griffin, who directs the Sunday school program. "This is justice. He is gone."
John Bohstedt, one of the church members who tackled Adkisson, said he didn't believe Adkisson was insane, but was manipulated by rhetoric aimed at liberals.
"Unbalanced, yes. Bitter, yes. Evil, yes. Insane, not in our ordinary use of the word," Bohstedt said.
"There are a lot of people who hate liberals, and if we stir that around in the pot and on the airwaves, eventually there will be people (like Adkisson) ... who get infected by the violent rhetoric and put it into violent action," he said.
Bohstedt said he was worried about future violence: "Do you think there are other Jim Adkissons out there listening to hate speech? I do."
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