Robert Seth Denton is charged with three counts of first-degree murder, aggravated assault, assault and reckless endangerment. Denton entered a plea of not guilty in February 2016 and the next month prosecutors announced they would not seek the death penalty. He was 19 years old at the time of the murders.
At the time, the case was scheduled to go to trial in October 2016 and Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said the decision not to seek the death penalty came after careful consideration of the case, conversations with the family, Denton's age and a review of case law.
Monday, the first day of what is expected to be a two-week trial, included selection of a jury and opening statements by both sides.
Speaking for the prosecution, Assistant District Attorney Teresa Nelson described Aug. 29, 2015, as an ordinary day for the family of the murder victims, including the grandparents taking the six children to the fair early in the day and an aunt later taking the children to a waterslide before gathering back at the Henson Road residence.
All except Curtis Rose, who was working with a saw in a trailer nearby, were in the kitchen, Nelson said, when Denton parked at the bottom of the driveway and walked its length, entered the back door and began shooting an automatic rifle in the kitchen. Nelson said Denton fired at least seven times and his unsuspecting family had no time to react. When it was over, Nelson said, the six children were left in the kitchen, still in their swimsuits ... covered in blood.
Lena Rose, 57, and Toshya Milhorn, 39, were dead. James Milhorn, 36, died from his injuries at a hospital later.
Five of the six children were Denton's siblings.
Nelson said after a stint in the military, Denton returned to Tennessee in May 2015, bought two guns and "lots" of ammunition on his first day back, and between that day and August went many times to a firing range to practice. On the day of the murders, Denton dressed in camouflage and was carrying multiple clips, all loaded with eight rounds each — along with bandages and gauze, according to Nelson.
Denton's defense attorney Ricky Curtis said the prosecution's evidence won't provide jurors with proof to support Nelson's description of Denton as the murderer.
Curtis said the proof will be that one person admitted firing a gun on Aug. 29, 2015, and it wasn't Denton, who also had a gunshot wound. Two people, including Denton, called 911 just after the shootings, Curtis said, and the tapes of those calls, when played for the jury, will be revealing.
Curtis said the family nature of the crime makes for "an uncomfortable situation," and when police arrived, "uncomfortable questions needed to be asked" — not just of Denton, but others at the scene. Proof, Curtis said, will show common sense would call for another person having been questioned.
The trail is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday.