Salvatore “Sammy” Calabrese Jr. was found guilty of murder by a jury Thursday afternoon. He was later sentenced to 35 years in prison for the crime.

The trial was presided over by 235th District Judge Janelle Haverkamp.

Calabrese, 44, was found guilty of murdering 30-year-old Melvin Jay Tamplin the morning of July 13, 2005. According to information discussed at the trial Tamplin was a friend of Eric Olford, a cousin of Calabrese’s who was present at the time of Tamplin’s death.

A Cooke County deputy arrested Calabrese on a first-degree murder charge after he asked a clerk at the Texas Pickup convenience store in Oak Ridge to call 9-1-1 to report a shooting at a nearby home. Authorities said Calabrese fired the shot from an SKS-47 semiautomatic assault rifle that struck Tamplin in the head. Tamplin was pronounced dead at the scene.

Calabrese pled “not guilty” to the charge of murder.

Authorities said the shooting at 1150 County Road 123, Olford’s home, stemmed from an brief feud with Calabrese’s cousin.

Cooke County District Attorney’s office included three counts in the indictment, which the grand jury returned on Sept. 28, 2005.

A story on closing arguments and some statements in Wednesday’s trial appear in Thursday’s Register.

The jury deliberated for several hours Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.

After the jury returned a guilty verdict, Martin Peterson, a prosecutor with the Cooke County District Attorney’s office representing the state, called Tamplin “a child of God” whose life ended too soon.

Peterson discussed with the jury their sentencing options of life imprisonment, life plus fine, five to 99 years in prison or five to 99 years with fine.

“These cases don’t go unnoticed by the community — you will be sending a message about what happens when someone commits murder,” Peterson said.

Piel said to the jury, “There’s no evidence before you that this man (Calabrese) has been convicted of crime after crime after crime.”

Piel alluded to criminal records of the four men present inside the house when Calabrese opened fire.

“None of that is before you because that’s not who he is,” Piel said of Calabrese.

He said Calabrese’s future will now be determined by “a few thoughtless, stupid minutes out of a lifetime.”

He said Calabrese’s intent cannot be proven.

“I can’t believe that you struggled for five hours if he had a premeditated intent to commit murder,” he said. “... To say every murder is a murder isn’t right. They’re treated differently.”

He urged jurors not to “give a rat’s behind” about possible rumors but to make a decision independently.

“Yes, punish him. But do it reasonably and rationally,” he said.

Peterson said Calabrese, by aiming at the door of the house, targeted four possible victims.

“I don’t have to show you the body of Jay Tamplin ... and what kind of violence and terror he (Calabrese) is capable of,” Peterson said.

Peterson added “from the blaring music to the bullets,” Calabrese had “zero compassion” for those inside the house, including Tamplin.

Peterson said Calabrese drove away from the scene, and that a worker at the Texas Pickup store noted Calabrese seemed more concerned with purchasing bottled water than making a 9-1-1 call.

“He said to the (Texas) Ranger, ‘I helped you — now you help me,” Peterson said, alluding to a previous testimonial.

Peterson went on to say Calabrese was “incredibly stupid” and “crude.”

“In modern-day terms, you could say he was pissed,” Peterson said.

He added: “That is not the way you handle yourself in society. It’s anarchic.”

He said 40, 50 or 60 years would be an adequate sentence, as Calabrese is 44 years old.

Friends and family of Tamplin were then allowed to take the stand and give a statement to Calabrese.

Glenda Fleitman, Tamplin’s mother, took the stand and set up a picture frame with several casual photos of her deceased son.

“Not only did you take my only child, but you took my friend,” Fleitman said. “... Yes, he talked big, but he had a heart of gold.”

Fleitman said Tamplin’s father was killed when their child was 14.

“I told God to handle this, and he gave me 35 years ...” she said.

Fleitman said she has not yet forgiven Calabrese Jr., but said she hopes his overall memory of Tamplin is positive.

“I have good memories of Jay, and I hope the memories stay with you,” she said.

Kristin Johnson, a friend of Tamplin’s, then took the stand.

“Sammy, I just want you to know you thought of Jay as someone scary ... But we knew him as a big teddy bear,” she said.

Johnson said Tamplin leaves behind a four-year-old son, Cain. She said in his nightly prayers he “prays for the Lord to tell Daddy ‘hi.’”

In an interview outside the courtroom, Kaye Calabrese, the mother of Sammy Calabrese, said depictions of her son’s character were not accurate.

“Sammy is a caring, good person,” she said. “He stated to me and all of us that he knows in his heart he had no intention of harming anyone.”

Salvatore Calabrese Sr. called his son “remorseful and sorry for what he’s done.”

“Now he just has to pay for what he’s done,” he said.

Calabrese Sr. said the people of Cooke County should be aware of the drug problem in the area and how it affects lives. He said Olford (his nephew) and Tamplin were thought by his family to be involved in drug manufacturing.

“That’s what they did for a living,” he said.

Piel, during Wednesday’s trial, said Olford had four felonies on his criminal record, Tamplin was a known to be methamphetamine producer and Zeb McDermott was wanted on two felonies and warrants, and fled the scene after Tamplin’s death.

According to a list of indictments in the Register along with Calabrese’s, Charles Whiteley, another witness to the shooting, was indicted on unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.

Reporter Andy Hogue may be contacted at andyhoguegdr@ntin.net

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