SAN ANTONIO – A trial began Wednesday in a federal district court in San Antonio stemming from the 2017 Sutherland Springs massacre that left 26 people dead.
The case is a lawsuit filed in 2018 by the families of the victims of the First Baptist Church mass shooting against the United States government. The families allege that failure by the U.S. Air Force to properly flag shooter Devin Kelley in a national background check database allowed Kelley to lawfully obtain the weapon used in the slayings.
The first witness to take the stand was Danielle Kelley, the wife of Devin Kelley.
In dramatic testimony, she recalled a long history of abuse by Deven Kelley throughout their marriage.
“I was his property,” Danielle Kelley said, describing how she was controlled by her husband, not allowed to see family or friends and consistently beaten.
She also testified about the day Devin Kelley purchased the semi-automatic, high-capacity rifle he used in the shooting.
She said after being denied at Dick’s Sporting Goods because of an out-of-state license, the couple went to Academy Sports and Outdoors in San Antonio in April 2016 and he was able to purchase the weapon.
The day before the shooting, she testified that Devin Kelley showed her a video of another woman performing a sex act on him. She asked for a divorce.
The next morning, Devin Kelly hogtied her to the bed, put on a bulletproof vest and a mask, grabbed his firearms and told their son he would be right back.
Sometime later she said his parents found her and untied her. Deven Kelley then called her and stated he had shot a lot of people at her mom’s church and blamed her.
“He said ‘it’s all your fault’ and then he shot himself,” Danielle testified.
Lula White, Danielle’s grandmother, was one of the 26 victims of the mass shooting. Danielle’s mother did not attend that day.
According to police, Devin Kelley went to the First Baptist Church and started shooting from the outside. He then entered the church and continued killing people. When he went back outside he was met with gunfire by a neighbor, Stephen Willeford, and fled the scene. He was surrounded by police and fatally shot himself before being taken into custody.
The testimony on Wednesday is the beginning of a trial in U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez courtroom that’s expected to last for a few weeks. It is a bench trial, meaning there is no jury and Judge Rodriguez will ultimately decide whether the U.S. government was liable in the shooting. If so, the trial would proceed to a phase to determine what amount of damages are owed to the plaintiffs.
After all testimony is heard, it could be weeks before Judge Rodriguez rules on the case.