By Christopher Smith
Little more than a month after pleading the opposite, Emilio Christopher Canales pleaded guilty Friday morning to shooting and killing his father and brother and to shooting and injuring his mother in April 2012.
Superior Court Judge William T. Boyett sentenced Canales to life in prison without the possibility of parole on two counts of murder. A post-sentence hearing is set for Aug. 2 for evidence that could mitigate the sentence. The State Probation Office will undertake the post-sentence investigation. The court will then decide whether Canales should be sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. If sentenced to life with the possibility of parole, Canales would have to serve 30 years before being considered by the parole board.
The hearing will also allow family members to give their side of the story, District Attorney Bert Poston said. Both Poston and Circuit Public Defender Mike McCarthy, who was representing Canales, requested the hearing, Poston said.
“No one planned on his pleading guilty,” Poston noted. “The family wasn’t there and the family has a right to speak to the judge.”
Emilio Canales Sr., the father, and Francisco Canales, the brother, were found dead at 1011 Dude St. in Dalton where Emilio Canales, 28, lived on April 29, 2012. The mother, Deborah Canales, ran to a neighbor’s house and called 911 after being shot in the lower back.
Canales’ decision to plead guilty came after a hearing Tuesday morning at the Whitfield County Courthouse where he became sick after watching a 2-hour video interview of himself with police, Poston said.
“I think the impact of that evidence is what changed his mind,” Poston said. “I also know his family was in contact with him. I don’t know if that played into his decision or not. It seemed like the biggest change came after watching that video at the hearing.”
The video detailed Canales’ statements to police after the murders, Poston said.
“In the video he said his father was physically and verbally abusive,” Poston said. “I think it was a conflict between him and his father. What that was? What pushed him over the edge and made him snap? I don’t know.
“I suspect once he started shooting he was in a heat of passion or rage and decided not to stop (at the father). He said he went to get the gun to scare his father, to get his attention. He said he did not intend to shoot him.”
The evidence at the scene contradicted Canales’ story including where the father was shot, Poston said. The elder Canales was shot twice in the head and once in the back of the left shoulder. Canales claimed his father was trying to take the gun away when it went off accidentally, Poston said.
“It’s hard to imagine two people fighting over a gun like that,” Poston said. “You would expect to be shot in the stomach or chest. A lot of what Canales said is not consistent with the facts.”
Canales also pleaded guilty to 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. Boyett sentenced him to 20 years on each of the aggravated assault counts and five years on each of the weapons charges.
McCarthy did not immediately return phone messages left for him Friday afternoon.
Canales was scheduled to appear in court on Friday for two pre-trial hearings. The first was on a motion filed by the district attorney to present evidence of other crimes to prove criminal intent in this case. The second was a plea in abatement filed by the defense challenging a technical issue with the indictment. Instead of having those hearings, Canales decided to enter a guilty plea. — District attorney’s office