ATLANTA (AP) — A man accused of gunning down a volunteer during a prayer service at a Georgia megachurch will face a murder trial, a judge ruled Friday.
Fulton County Magistrate Judge Karen Smith Woodson found there is probable cause to move forward with charges of murder, felony murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony against Floyd Palmer.
Police say Palmer fatally shot 39-year-old Greg McDowell as McDowell led a prayer group at World Changers Church International Church outside Atlanta on Oct. 24. No one else was hurt.
Witnesses say McDowell had been pacing back and forth during the prayer service but stopped as Palmer approached the front of the chapel, Fulton County police Detective John Cross testified. Palmer began shooting when he reached the pulpit and continued to shoot McDowell once he'd fallen to the floor, witnesses told police.
An investigation revealed McDowell was shot 12 times, including one bullet that went through his heart and caused profuse bleeding, Cross said.
McDowell's mother attended the hearing Friday and looked upset — squeezing her eyes shut and scrunching up her face — as Cross described her son's death.
Police still haven't recovered the gun used in the shooting, but they found bullets in Palmer's home with casings like those at the scene. Palmer did not legally own a gun, Cross said. Palmer had tried to buy two guns at a gun show in Savannah on Aug. 11 but was turned down because he falsified information on his application, failing to disclose his prior mental health history, Cross said.
Police records show Palmer was charged more than a decade ago with a shooting outside a Maryland mosque. Palmer was committed to a psychiatric hospital in 2004 after pleading not criminally responsible in the mosque shooting.
Palmer had previously worked at the church, helping to set up for services and doing other tasks, but resigned on Aug. 21, Cross testified. Palmer had worked at the church for about a year and a half, and no one at the church could think of any reason for his resignation, Cross said.
Church officials told police Palmer and McDowell never formally worked together, but Palmer's cousin and McDowell's wife both indicated to officers that McDowell had supervised Palmer at some point.
A church employee told police Palmer continued to attend services at the church following his resignation and had been there the Sunday before the Wednesday morning shooting. The employee told officers Palmer had not been his usual self that Sunday, refusing to make eye contact and not really responding when the employee asked him if he was all right, Cross said.
Cross was the only witness called by the prosecution at the preliminary hearing. The defense did not call any witnesses.
Defense attorney Drew Findling has previously said Palmer's mental competency must be evaluated as the criminal case against him moves forward, but he did not raise the issue Friday.
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