Antonio Henry told police the pastor he's accused of killing sometimes paid him to perform sex acts, an investigator testified in court Wednesday.
"According to your client, he was there and had in the past masturbated in front of [the Rev. David] Strong for a fee of $50," Detective Michael Wenger told Henry's attorney, Cris Helton. "Mr. Strong ... watched him."
Henry shook his head as he listened. The detective's testimony contradicted two jailhouse interviews in which Henry told the Chattanooga Times Free Press he beat Strong with a stick after the pastor made sexual advances.
During those interviews, Henry denied a sexual relationship with Strong and boasted about several girlfriends.
At Wednesday's hearing, Henry's mother rubbed away tears as Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Bob Moon sent her son's case to the grand jury.
"I sat there and watched my son shake his head when the investigator said that," Anita Burgis said after the hearing. "I don't believe that. I don't."
Wenger said Henry mentioned the sex act at the beginning of the investigation, but police never released that detail to the public. Neither Lt. Kirk Eidson, head of major crimes division, nor Assistant Chief Tim Carroll returned phone calls for comment on this story.
Wenger characterized Strong's head as "more swollen than I would have expected in the early stages of decomposition." An autopsy also revealed 29 stab wounds.
Henry's cousin, 16-year-old Brendan Barnes, accompanied Henry to Strong's Glenwood Drive home. The investigator never said why their visit with Strong turned into an hourlong attack.
"I'd rather not go any further than what we talked about in court today," Wenger said after the hearing. "I wasn't asked. I don't know why they didn't ask."
Investigators located a bloody piece of a walking stick next to Strong's body, but they never found a knife. Wenger said police found Strong wearing boxer shorts and a bathrobe along with two T-shirts pulled high on his chest. An inside-out pair of pants was next to him.
Henry and Barnes are charged with first-degree murder and especially aggravated robbery. Barnes is expected to be in Hamilton County Juvenile Court today to determine whether he will be tried as an adult.
The defendants have told police different stories about how the crime unfolded.
"Brendan had a different version," Wenger said after the hearing. "Brendan says Henry wanted to either rob [Strong] or kill him."
Strong was senior pastor at St. Paul AME Church, and a handful of church members came to the courtroom Wednesday.
Robert Parks, who has been secretary at St. Paul AME for nearly 35 years and attended the hearing, said he was glad the case was moving forward and is waiting to see what evidence and testimony come out in the trial.
"I don't listen to a bunch of hearsay," Parks said. "I want to make sure everything is legitimate."
Some members have been shocked by allegations that Strong paid for sexual acts.
"It's going to take awhile for the members to get over it," he said.
On the church's website, a memorial page devoted to Strong's life has been taken down.
At Wednesday's hearing, Hamilton County District Attorney Bill Cox objected after Henry's lawyer asked questions about whether Strong's sexuality played into the crime. Moon sustained the objection before Wenger could answer.
In another twist to the case, Wenger told prosecutors that Henry's "intent" to assault wasn't to obtain Strong's debit card personal identification number, although police immediately identified robbery as the primary motive.
"Did [Henry] tell you why -- what he was trying to get the victim to tell him?" Cox asked Wenger.
"He did not," Wenger replied. "He told me during the assault the victim told them his PIN number for his debit card. He did not say that's what his intent was."
Wenger said Henry used the debit card three times and stole Strong's vehicle. Henry told investigators he also took a "dimebag of marijuana," some money and a gold ring with clear stones in it. Police never found those items.
"The killing fields of Chattanooga are becoming more dangerous and more defined every day," Moon said before hitting the gavel.
Staff writer Joan Garrett contributed to this story.
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