Did accused deputy killer plan suicide by cop? Jurors to decide

Surviving deputy describes being shot, hancuffing man who'd fatally shot fellow deputy

Monroe County deputy Jeff Wilson testified Monday, June 5, 2017, in the trial for Christopher Calmer, the Monroe County, Ga. man accused of wounding Wilson and fatally shooting deputy Michael Norris Sept. 13, 2014.
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Monroe County deputy Jeff Wilson testified Monday, June 5, 2017, in the trial for Christopher Calmer, the Monroe County, Ga. man accused of wounding Wilson and fatally shooting deputy Michael Norris Sept. 13, 2014.

Bleeding from a gunshot in his leg and another in his buttocks, with his gut burning from a shot that was barely stopped by his bulletproof vest, Monroe County deputy Jeff Wilson handcuffed the man who’d shot him.

Moments earlier, he and fellow deputy Michael Norris had been at the door of the Haley Lane home where Christopher Calmer lived with his parents near Pate Road and Interstate 75.

Just after one of the deputies called out to Calmer, saying “Chris,” Calmer stood up from his recliner and fired several shots toward the door, mortally wounding the 24-year-old Norris.

Wilson says he locked eyes with Calmer and the two men exchanged gunfire as Wilson struggled to reach cover behind his patrol car.

Just after Wilson loaded a fresh ammunition magazine into his gun, Calmer surrendered and followed Wilson’s instructions to walk down to the patrol car and get on the ground.

Testifying Monday at Calmer’s murder trial, Wilson said he figured he only had a few minutes left to live. Bleeding heavily, he thought he was about to pass out.

With Calmer on the ground in front of him, Wilson climbed onto his back and put on the cuffs.

Asked during the trial to identify his shooter, he pointed to Calmer and said, “I’ll never forget him.”

Testimony began Monday in the trial for the 49-year-old Calmer, who faces a series of charges stemming from the Sept. 13, 2014, shootout. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

The trial is expected to last about two weeks.

Monroe County deputy Jeff Wilson showed jurors where bullets passed through his uniform shirt, pants and bullet-proof vest during the trial for Christopher Calmer, the Monroe County man accused of wounding Wilson and fatally shooting deputy Michae

Upson County residents chosen to serve on the jury watched Wilson’s patrol car dash cam video and listened to Wilson crying out over his police radio that shots had been fired.

They saw Wilson point out the bullet holes in his uniform and bulletproof vest.

Wilson’s testimony lasted more than two hours.

When questioned by Calmer’s attorneys, Wilson admitted he’d received a $300,000 settlement from Calmer’s parents in 2016 after hiring an attorney to send them a demand letter — a prelude to a lawsuit — alleging they were negligent in not locking up Calmer’s father’s handgun that Calmer used to shoot the two deputies.

Although Wilson briefly returned to patrol duties at the sheriff’s office, his injuries from the shooting caused him to change jobs. He’s now a sheriff’s office code enforcement officer, he said.

In her opening statement to jurors, Gabrielle Pittman, one of Calmer’s lawyers, said her client didn’t plan to shoot Norris and Wilson.

He was a man suffering from physical and mental illness who was in withdrawal from a pain drug. The withdrawal was causing him to suffer paranoia and anxiety, Pittman said.

“He was reacting like any crazy person would,” she said. “This wasn’t murder. This was untreated mental illness. This was pain. This was insanity.”

An alleged scheme

In the day or so before the shooting, Calmer told his family about his desperation, holding a pill bottle in one hand and a gun in the other.

“One of these two is going to give me relief. I can’t live like this,” Calmer’s uncle, Tommie McRae testified Monday.

For years Calmer had suffered from neck and back pain.

On the day of the shooting, Calmer held a gun to his temple and underneath his chin, mocking family members’ fear, McRae said.

McRae then called 911 on a cell phone, hoping someone would be able to get the gun away from his nephew, he testified.

“I thought he was going to blow his head off,” McRae said.

I thought he was going to blow his head off.

Tommie McRae, Calmer’s uncle, said of Calmer putting a gun to his head on the day of the shooting.

In her opening statement to jurors, prosecutor Elizabeth Bobbitt said Calmer had also told family members he wanted “to shoot the police” so they’d either kill him or help get him help for his pain.

Knowing his mother wouldn’t involve the law, Calmer formulated a plan to scare his uncle — who was visiting from out of state — so he’d call 911, Bobbitt said.

He got his father’s .40-caliber Taurus handgun, loaded two magazines filled with ammunition and put a large knife beside his recliner in the living room, she said.

Bobbitt said Calmer had plenty of opportunity to end his life if that’s what he wanted to do.

“He was just too cowardly to” kill himself, Bobbitt said. “For his cowardice, Michael Norris lost his life.”

Mental illness

Calmer was molested as a child, Pittman told jurors.

While he told his parents about the molestation, he didn’t tell them about the darkness he felt growing inside him or the voices he began hearing in his head, she said.

He already was a nerdy child who was bullied. He didn’t want to be seen as crazy, Pittman said.

Tired of the bullying, he dropped out of school at age 17, but later got a GED and after attending a local junior college was accepted into Auburn University.

While Calmer initially was successful, he went from being an A student to one making Fs.

He’d slipped into what would be one of several “depressive episodes” in his life, a cycle of instances where Calmer’s life seemed to fall apart and he’d move home with his parents to recover, Pittman said.

When well, Calmer held good jobs working on computers. He learned to fly airplanes, rode a bicycle and hiked.

He was married twice, but both marriages failed amid his back problems, pain and depression, Pittman said.

Eventually, Calmer was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and later complex regional pain syndrome, she said.

Unable to work in his field, he applied for disability benefits, but was denied.

On good days, Calmer wrote fiction and built computers to sell on e-Bay for money.

On bad days, he spent his time in a recliner. His teeth rotted due to his not taking care of himself. He became bloated and his skin got pasty, Pittman said.

Suffering from anxiety, he pulled his hair out, she said.

Editor's note: The following video contains graphic content. Monroe County deputy Jeff Wilson narrates a dash cam video of Wilson and fellow deputy MIchael Norris being shot after responding to a report of a suicidal person at Christopher Calmer's

Without health insurance, Calmer resorted to online medical evaluations and getting pills online. One of them, a pain pill, was reclassified as a controlled substance in 2014, meaning Calmer could no longer get it using an online medical evaluation, Pittman said.

After taking the drug for seven years, he got his last shipment in June 2014.

By the time Norris and Wilson arrived at his parents’ home, Calmer was suffering from withdrawal from the pills, the attorney said.

Testimony is set to continue Tuesday.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.

Amy Leigh Womack: 478-744-4398, @awomackmacon