Day 3: How the defense's first witness categorized Travis Reinking

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Posted at 5:15 PM, Feb 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-02 18:15:42-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — On the third day of the Waffle House murder trial, the first witness for the defense appeared on the stand: Dr. Mary Elizabeth Wood, an expert in forensic psychology.

Travis Reinking, the man accused of opening fire at an Antioch Waffle House in 2018, is on trial for killing four people and injuring others.

Wood testified that Vanderbilt University Medical Center, her employer, was ordered by the court to evaluate Reinking on May 2, 2018 — nearly a week after he was arrested. Wood testified that Reinking was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Wood testified that Reinking did not know what he was doing when he opened fire at the Waffle House. She said God told him to go to the Waffle House and kill three people. Wood said when Reinking saw Joe Perez Jr. outside the restaurant wearing a hit with a "3" on it, Reinking took it as a sign, corroborating God's message to him.

"He put on a jacket, got the gun, and walked to his car," Wood said. "He described feeling humiliated and embarrassed. He said it was also symbolic – because 'they had taken everything from me.' He said he was upset and some ways angry when he arrived and saw that the lights were on and how many people were inside. Mr. Reinking said it was about four minutes he sat in his car. He said he continued to grapple with this decision and that he hoped the gun would jam."

She said that Reinking talking to the police doesn't mean he understood it was wrong.

"It can be an indication he understood it was wrong," Wood said. "But this is an adversarial system we are talking about."

The prosecution argued that Reinking had a legal advocate, who was heavily involved in the case well before they met with Reinking.

Wood said she made a determination of her decision that he wasn't aware of his actions based on the information she was provided and how each side was trying to persuade her.

"I am cognizant of that."

She explained that Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift and other celebrities were in his dream and delusions. He believed he was drugged and raped by Swift.

"I am referring to tactile hallucinations," she said. "These happened on different occasions as well. The way he characterized this is rape, which wasn't wanted or positive. He perceived unwanted sexual contact from someone he had a romantic interest. That's different than suggesting he had a positive experience or enjoying it."

She added she didn't find aware of his actions at the time of Reinking shooting up the Waffle House. She explained that his symptoms weren't necessarily exaggerated during his evaluation.

"He did not appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions that night," Wood said.

Further, Wood said leaving the scene to create a manhunt was demonstrative he wasn't in his right mind.

"There's significant evidence to suggest Mr. Reinking thought he was in danger at the hands of police," Wood said. "It makes sense to me, then, that Mr. Reinking would not have stayed. He said the police reports he made before were punitive. He explained he was trying to protect himself."

She said he believed that those in the Waffle House were "targets."

"He tried alternative course of action," she said. "He said he didn't have a jail for them. He doesn't perceive them as innocent bystanders. He perceived them as CIA agents that had been doing the attacking and harassing him in his home. He didn't perceive them as innocent bystanders at that point in time."

Wood and the defense discussed Reinking previously stealing a BMW, him taking all the identifying information off the car. She noted that he noticed the car cost $88,000.

"After I got back to my apartment, it was about what I imagined it would be," she said reading from his journal.

The prosecution said he knew he was killing people.

"He believed he was killing the people that were targeting him, yes," Wood said.

She said he was upset because the police took back the car he stole, but that the prosecution focusing on that was missing the larger picture.

"I talked about how this all progressed," Wood said. "He developed this belief about having a relationship with her. That relationship changed and no longer one in which he believes Taylor Swift loves him."

The prosecution combed through his journal entries, having Wood read excerpts.

"Yes, he know he shot people. He was acting in self-defense. But he said this was an effort to protect himself and of years of persecution. He believed they were the agents involved in this persecution. He described it as me or them. You're trying to impose logic and reasoning."

The defense asked Wood if his journal entries sounded like if he was in his mind that day.

"No," she said. "They do not."