July 5, 2013

Canales pleads guilty to murder, sentenced to life in prison

Hearing to determine whether sentence should be changed

Submitted by the district attorney's office

— Emilio Christopher Canales, 28, of 1011 Dude St., Dalton, changed his plea today and entered a guilty plea to two counts of murder, three counts of aggravated assault, three counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and three counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

He was sentenced by Superior Court Judge William T. Boyett to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole on the two murder counts, 20 years on each of the aggravated assault counts and five years on each of the weapons charges. Boyett ordered the State Probation Office to conduct a post-sentence investigation and scheduled a hearing for Aug. 2 to determine whether any aspect of the sentence should be changed. Both the district attorney and the circuit public defender, Michael McCarthy, who represented Canales, requested the additional sentencing date so that additional evidence in aggravation and mitigation of sentence could be presented to the court.

Canales had been scheduled to appear in court for two pre-trial hearings today. The first was on a motion filed by the district attorney to present evidence of other crimes in order to prove criminal intent in the present case. The second was a plea in abatement filed by the defense challenging a technical issue with the indictment. Instead of having those motion hearings, Canales decided to withdraw his motion and enter a guilty plea. Canales had previously been in court on Tuesday for a hearing on the voluntariness and admissibility of a recorded interview with police detectives. Boyett took that motion under advisement on Tuesday and had not yet issued a ruling as of this morning.

Canales was arrested on April 29, 2012, after his mother, Deborah Canales, ran to a neighbor’s house seeking help and asking to call 911.  Mrs. Canales had been shot in the lower back and reported to neighbors that her youngest son had shot her husband, her oldest son and herself. Mrs. Canales was taken to Hamilton Medical Center and rushed into surgery. The two other victims, Emilio Canales Sr. and Francisco Canales, were located inside the residence and were pronounced dead at the scene. Emilio Canales Sr., the defendant’s father, was located in his bedroom and found to have been shot twice in the head and once in the back of the left shoulder. Francisco Canales, the defendant’s older brother, was located in the living room area and had been shot once through the side and once in the back.

The defendant, Emilio Christopher Canales, had left the scene before police arrived but was arrested later in the day by Deputy Chris Callahan with the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office after he located Canales hiding behind a relative’s house just outside the city limits of Dalton.

The case was investigated by the Dalton Police Department with Detectives Scott Murray and John Helton being the lead investigators. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation provided assistance with processing the crime scene. Detectives Murray and Helton interviewed Canales at the Dalton Police Department for approximately two hours. During the interview, Canales admitted that he had been the shooter but initially claimed that he only intended to scare his father with the firearm and that it went off accidentally when his father grabbed it and tried to take it from him. The physical evidence at the crime scene, including the locations of the injuries to the victims, disproved Canales’ claim of accident.

At the sentencing hearing scheduled for Aug. 2, the primary issue for the court to decide is whether Canales should be sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole instead of life without parole. If sentenced to life with parole, Canales will be required to serve 30 years in confinement before being considered by the parole board. If the sentence of life without parole is not changed, Canales would not be eligible for parole at all.