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Man charged with shooting in Tennessee church pleads not guilty

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NASHVILLE (Reuters) - A man accused of killing a woman in a September 2017 shooting rampage at a Tennessee church pleaded not guilty to the crime on Wednesday, his defense attorney said.

Emanuel Kidega Samson, 26, entered the plea in a Davidson County criminal court on the 43-count indictment for the shooting at the Nashville church, in which six others were injured, attorney Jennifer Thompson told Reuters by telephone. She declined further comment.

The charges, which were handed down in an indictment by a Davidson County grand jury last week, include murder, civil rights intimidation and 24 counts of aggravated assault.

Stephen Hayslip, spokesman for the Davidson County District Attorney General’s office in Nashville, confirmed the details of proceedings in the Nashville courtroom, but declined further comment. No date has been set yet for Samson’s trial.

Samson is charged with walking into Burnette Chapel Church of Christ on Sept. 24, 2017 wearing a ski mask and opening fire, Nashville police have said. An usher grappled with the suspect and eventually retrieved a gun from his vehicle and held at bay the suspect, who had shot himself in the chest, until police arrived.

A churchgoer, Melanie Smith, 39, of Smyrna, Tennessee, was fatally shot in the parking lot, where she was found lying next to the suspect’s blue SUV.

About 50 people were worshipping at the church when the gunman entered, police said. Samson was armed with two pistols and had another handgun and a rifle in his sport utility vehicle, police said.

Church members said Samson, who is black, attended the church in the past, police said.

A note in Samson’s car indicated he may have been seeking revenge for the fatal 2015 shootings at Emanuel AME church, a historic African-American house of worship in Charleston, South Carolina, The Tennessean newspaper previously reported. Police have not confirmed such a note was found.

Reporting by Tim Ghianni; Editing by Ben Klayman and Frances Kerry