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Christopher Parker

A 26-year-old Chattanooga man has been sentenced to life in prison for the 2014 slaying of an acquaintance.

After Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman handed down the punishment, his mother gasped in the gallery. "Oh my God," she repeated just outside the courtroom.

"Can I give my mom a hug? I got a life sentence," Christopher Parker said. He added that hadn't had much physical contact with her since he went to jail nearly three years ago.

"I know you want to, and I would like to be able to allow you to do that, but I can't," Steelman said.

As courtroom officers led him away, Parker's mother called out a final message: "I love you, son!" Parker will remain in custody until he's transferred to a state prison.

After four days on the case, jurors heard closing arguments Friday in Hamilton County Criminal Court about whether Parker, 26, was guilty of first-degree murder. They ultimately agreed with prosecutors, following at least four hours of deliberation.

All week, prosecutors said Parker showed off a stolen gun to friends. Then he took two friends down to Robert McClure's trailer on Hixson Avenue on Feb. 1, 2014, where Parker picked a fight with the 24-year-old and shot him in the head, allegedly over a previous feud.

Parker's defense attorney, Andrew Basler, urged jurors to convict his client of a lesser charge.

The facts, Basler said, depicted a man strung out on meth, his usage escalating to unprecedented levels. Basler cited John Standridge, a clinical expert on addiction whom he called earlier in the week, and said chronic meth users suffer from delusions and paranoia and act recklessly and violently.

Parker didn't just steal a gun like the state suggested; he also grabbed a laptop, Basler said. And one of his two friends, Andrew Biro, also brought a firearm to the crime scene. Unlike Parker, though, Biro's clothing wasn't tested for gunshot residue at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Basler also mentioned testimony from Jacob Keel, a third man who went to the crime scene.

Keel's testimony showed that Parker may not have meant to pull the trigger since he was holding the gun to McClure's forehead, and McClure was bucking his head against the gun, seemingly unafraid, his system also containing meth, Basler said.

"At the end of the day, if you take what [Keel] tried to show us, we don't know that it was knowing or intentional," Basler said. "It comes down to what happened in those last few seconds."

During his final approach to jurors, prosecutor Lance Pope said he would methodically unravel the defense's claims.

First off, Biro's clothing was never sent to the TBI for testing because the state wouldn't waste resources on a man who was never seen shooting a gun, Pope said.

Second, Pope said, jurors needed to remember the testimony of Steven Cogswell, the county's deputy medical examiner, who said McClure died from a single gunshot that Parker fired from a few inches away.

"[Parker's] gun has multiple safety mechanisms," Pope said. "It's specifically designed to prevent it from being fired unless you pull the trigger. McClure didn't buck up against that gun.

"Christopher Parker put the gun up to his head and pulled the trigger."

Furthermore, Pope said, intoxication was a factor, but not if the evidence showed that Parker had the mental ability to form a plan — and he did.

Pope pointed to a text message from 3:24 p.m. on Feb. 1, about two hours before the homicide: "We goin to get Rob for everything he got."

After the homicide, Parker threatened Keel and Biro, Pope said. Then he found the phone he'd been exchanging text messages with, deleted those messages, and destroyed the phone, Pope added.

Finally, the prosecutor replayed a jailhouse call in which Parker outlined a plot to intimidate Biro into not testifying. While the tape played, Pope stared directly at Parker, then turned back to the jury.

"What's so interesting about that attempt by Mr. Parker to derail these proceedings," Pope said, "is that it's the exact same way he acted the moment after he killed Robbie Mcclure."

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow on Twitter @zackpeterson918.

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