Willie Cory Godbolt addressed the jury near the conclusion of the sentencing phase of his capital murder trial Thursday, in a rambling monologue that prompted an outburst from a member from one of the victim’s families in Pike County Circuit Court.
“I’m not here to make excuses,” Godbolt began. “I’ve only offered the truth of what transpired in my life.”
He mentioned childhood experiences that his attorneys had said helped explain his behavior.
“I don’t stand before you in this manner denying and in denial. I stand crushed and devastated, but I stand in the peace of God in my heart,” Godbolt said.
He said prosecutors were wrong in describing him as filled with rage and hate, citing 17 years of marriage before his wife left him.
On the night of the eight murders of which he has been convicted, “my life came to a screeching halt that night,” Godbolt said. “The perfect storm took me out. I couldn’t fight the battle that was raging inside me.”
He then quoted words spoken by Jesus Christ on the cross, “My God, my God, will you take this cup from me? My Lord, My Lord, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Godbolt then addressed “the families in Bogue Chitto” who were sitting in the courtroom.
“I am absolutely sorry to allow the devil to save himself and destroy me,” Godbolt said.
Godbolt said he had prayed to be a better man, “but the devil came to kill and destroy. He wasn’t going to let that be.”
He then referred to incidents in which he considered his daughter to have been in danger from other relatives, prompting a woman in the audience to scream, “Cory, just shut up! Just stop!”
Judge David Strong halted proceedings and family members were led out of the courtroom.
When court resumed, Godbolt continued a speech laced with Bible references and declarations of his love for God.
He asked the jury to reject the death penalty.
“I’m here to beg you, plead with you, do not become what Satan forced me to become,” Godbolt said.
He concluded by addressing the victims’ families, “Forgive me. Forgive me, please. I love you.”
Earlier, Assistant District Attorney Robert Byrd went through a long list of “aggravating factors” in the capital murders of sheriff’s deputy William Durr, Jordan Blackwell, Austin Edwards and Sheila Burage that he said merited the death penalty.
The sentencing phase of the case was expected to go to the jury Thursday evening.
Also Thursday, Dr. Matt Mendel, a clinical psychologist from Raleigh, N.C., testified that he interviewed Godbolt and several of his family members on behalf of the defense.
Mendel said Godbolt experienced three major traumas in his childhood that affected his later behavior: The fact that his divorced father lived nearby with his other family, Godbolt’s encounter with a woman at a crackhouse and the shooting death of Godbolt’s father.
Though Godbolt had a close relationship with his father, not being able to live with him made him crave his dad’s attention, Mendel said.
“I think it made him very, very needy,” Mendel said.
When Godbolt was somewhere between the ages of 11 and 16, an adult male friend took him and his older cousin to a crackhouse in McComb, where the boys had encounters with much older women, Mendel said.
“I identified it as trauma because it was a sexual abuse experience,” Mendel said.
Godbolt told Mendel it was his first such experience but Godbolt’s older brother Chris testified Wednesday that Godbolt was already sexually active at that time.
When Godbolt was 17, his stepmother shot and killed his father, which “led to enormous anger and resentment, especially towards women,” Mendel said.
“That’s when Cory started hating women,” Mendel said.
He noted that Godbolt never underwent any counseling.
During cross-examination Mendel acknowledged calling Godbolt manipulative, selfish and controlling in his evaluation.
His report also quoted a pastor who said Godbolt had told him that if a policeman intervened with his family, Godbolt would kill him.
A question by Assistant District Attorney Brendon Adams, Mendel acknowledged he was being paid around $25,000 for his services.
Godbolt’s longtime friend, Marvin Brumfield, said he saw a lot of good in Godbolt, including his love for his wife Sheena.
“I thought he showed a lot of love for her,” Brumfield said. “He cherished her because he talked a lot about her.”
During cross-examination, Tidwell went over the names of the eight people Godbolt killed on May 27-28, 2017.
“All these were friends or family members of Sheena,” Tidwell said. “And that’s how he showed love for her?”
“I don’t call that showing love for her,” Brumfield said.
Brumfield said he has friends and family members on both sides and implored them to make peace.
“What Cory did was wrong,” Brumfield said. “I can’t find no right in it. Ain’t nobody going to find any right in it. But I love him.