Crime

‘Please find it in your hearts not to kill my son,’ mother pleads

Attorney pleads for jury's mercy for deputy killer

Gabrielle Pittman pleaded with jurors during her closing argument in the sentencing phase of the trial for Christopher Keith Calmer, the man found guilty of fatally shooting Monroe County Sheriff's Office deputy Michael Norris in 2014. Pittman sho
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Gabrielle Pittman pleaded with jurors during her closing argument in the sentencing phase of the trial for Christopher Keith Calmer, the man found guilty of fatally shooting Monroe County Sheriff's Office deputy Michael Norris in 2014. Pittman sho

Jurors deliberated about 30 minutes Wednesday before announcing they agreed to sentence Monroe County deputy killer Christopher Keith Calmer to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Calmer, 49, chose not to testify during his trial or sentencing hearing.

Multiple witnesses pleaded with jurors in efforts to save Calmer’s life.

Jurors had the choice of sentencing Calmer to life, life without the possibility of parole or death.

Cheryl Calmer, Calmer’s mother, begged saying, “Please find it in your hearts not to kill my son.”

Jurors also deliberated about 30 minutes Tuesday, after a more than week-long trial, before finding Calmer guilty of murder and other charges stemming from Calmer shooting Monroe County deputies Michael Norris and Jeff Wilson on Sept. 13, 2014. Norris’ wounds were fatal. Though he survived, Wilson’s injuries have had lasting impacts.

The deputies had been called to Calmer’s parents’ home near Interstate 75 and Pate Road, dispatched after Calmer’s uncle called 911 saying Calmer was suicidal.

Judge Tommy Wilson sentenced Calmer to an additional 80 years for other charges in the case.

Jurors wept Wednesday as Fran and Bennett Norris testified about the loss of their youngest child.

Born in 1990 and raised in Culloden, Norris enjoyed hunting, fishing and the outdoors. He was a Boy Scout and a volunteer firefighter, his mother, Fran Norris, testified.

He played soccer and other sports.

A graduate of Mary Persons High School in Forsyth, Norris got a degree from Gordon College before becoming a Monroe County deputy.

A member of a close-knit family that eats Sunday dinner together, Norris’ favorite food was tacos, his mother said.

Norris, 24, was at the end of his shift that Saturday when he was dispatched to the Calmer house. He’d just helped a friend change a tire, she said.

“He dropped what he was doing” to help someone in need,” she said.

Bennett Norris, Norris’ father, said he’d sat down to watch the Georgia Bulldogs play football against the University of South Carolina on TV when he heard an emergency call on his volunteer firefighter radio.

In my heart I knew something terrible had happened.

Bennett Norris, Michael Norris’s father

He heard a familiar voice say shots had been fired and deputies were down.

Norris knew his son was on duty and had responded to the Calmer house.

“In my heart I knew something terrible had happened,” Norris testified. “He was always the one to take the lead. … He thought of others first.”

Norris said he got in his truck and headed toward the shooting scene and heard on the way that an ambulance was on the way to the hospital.

He started praying for both deputies as he drove as fast as his truck would go — running red lights — all the way to The Medical Center, Navicent Health, in Macon.

“I was scared,” Norris said. “I wanted to be there when he got there.”

Although they continue to live, life doesn’t have the joy it once had, he said.

“Our lives were completely changed that day,” Norris said.

Pleading for mercy

Cheryl Calmer described her only child as a nerdy kid who grew to be a smart man.

She cried as she told jurors that she loves him and after the death of her husband, “he’s all I’ve got now.”

Calmer’s uncle, Tommie McRae, said he never envisioned his call to 911 nearly three years ago would result in tragedy.

“This was something that horrified us ... beyond anything we ever could have expected,” McRae said.

He told jurors about his family’s history of multiple people being diagnosed with bipolar disorder as defense experts have contended Calmer also suffers.

“For three generations it’s been almost epidemic in our family,” McRae said.

He said Calmer’s aunt and two cousins suffer from bipolar disorder.

Please find it in your hearts not to kill my son.

Cheryl Calmer, Christopher Calmer’s mother begged jurors

Another cousin is thought to have been bipolar, but he died before being diagnosed, McRae said.

“My nephew Chris is a brilliant man. He is sick. He is in pain,” McRae said, also referencing testimony that Calmer experiences chronic pain due to back problems.

McRae and Cheryl Calmer said while incarcerated awaiting trial, Calmer has developed a desire to help others, aiding other inmates in reading and writing letters.

An avid reader, Calmer shares his books with other inmates when he’s finished them, McRae said.

In her closing argument to jurors, Gabrielle Pittman, one of Calmer’s lawyers, drew a parallel between Calmer and Saul of Tarsus who persecuted early Christians.

“God saw that he had depths and made use of him although he’d done terrible things in the past,” she said of the biblical figure.

God uses sinners, Pittman said in her argument for jurors’ mercy.

“Chris is capable of redemption,” she said. “God isn’t done with Chris yet.”

“He did a terrible thing, but he is not evil.”

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

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