published Friday, December 6th, 2013

Two scares in the middle of the night: Another incident preceded Ronald Westbrook shooting death

Jason Westbrook holds his father Ronald Westbrook's medical I.D. bracelet that he says his father was wearing when the Alzheimer's patient was shot and killed in the yard of a house in Chickamauga, Ga., on Nov. 27.
Jason Westbrook holds his father Ronald Westbrook's medical I.D. bracelet that he says his father was wearing when the Alzheimer's patient was shot and killed in the yard of a house in Chickamauga, Ga., on Nov. 27.
Photo by Doug Strickland.
  • photo
    Ronald Westbrook, 72, was an Alzheimer's patient who was shot and killed in the yard of a house in Chickamauga, Ga., on Nov. 27., after having wandered about 3 miles from home in the early morning.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

A week before he killed a man with Alzheimer's disease in his backyard, Joe Hendrix and his girlfriend received a scare in the middle of the night.

Around 11:30 p.m. on Nov. 19, the girlfriend was home with her two children when a stranger knocked on the front door, said Hendrix's lawyer, Lee Davis. Hendrix, 34, was not home at the time.

The stranger demanded to see someone else, someone the girlfriend did not know -- evidently, someone who lived at 188 Cottage Crest Court before Hendrix and his girlfriend moved in about three days earlier.

The Walker County Sheriff's Office has not released the identity of Hendrix's girlfriend. On Thursday, however, Sheriff Steve Wilson confirmed Davis' account.

As the unknown man at the front door continued to demand to see the house's former tenant, Davis said, Hendrix received a call from his girlfriend. He told her to call 911. Hendrix then headed over to the house, but by the time he and deputies arrived, the man at the front door had left.

Eight days later, around 4 a.m. on Nov. 27, Hendrix and his girlfriend woke up to someone ringing their doorbell. This time, 72-year-old Ronald Westbrook stood on the other side. Though Hendrix and his girlfriend did not know it, Westbrook suffered from Alzheimer's, and was lost.

Westbrook rang the bell and turned the doorknob several times, Hendrix's girlfriend called 911 and -- 12 minutes later, with deputies en route -- Hendrix walked outside with a handgun. He would later tell investigators that Westbrook did not respond to Hendrix's calls to him, and that Westbrook began to walk toward him.

That's when Hendrix shot Westbrook in the chest.

Davis said Thursday that the Nov. 19 incident influenced how his client reacted one week later. He argued that a reasonable man in Hendrix's position would have done the same thing.

"This is a tragic situation," Davis said. "But it's not like the person rang the doorbell and waited for someone to answer the door. It appeared to Mr. Hendrix that this person was very agitated, ringing the doorbell repeatedly and turning the doorknob repeatedly. It's a factor a prosecutor is going to have to weigh."

On Wednesday, District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin said he hopes to meet with members of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Walker County Sheriff's Office before deciding whether to press charges against Hendrix.

Hendrix has not spoken publicly about the shooting since it happened. On Thursday, Davis said his client will not do so until the investigation concludes.

Hendrix worked as a communications director for Scottie Mayfield during his unsuccessful 2012 congressional campaign, Hendrix is also an Army veteran, having joined the military in 2002 after graduating from East Ridge High School. He served in Iraq in 2003-04 before suffering from Crohn's disease and leaving the Army with an honorable discharge.

In 2010, Davis said, Hendrix graduated from Lee University with a degree in communications. He then interned for U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., before joining Mayfield's campaign.

Contact Staff Writer Tyler Jett t 423-757-6476 or at tjett@timesfreepress.com

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