Trial in May for 2 held in slaying of Chattanooga pastor David Strong

Trial in May for 2 held in slaying of Chattanooga pastor David Strong

December 16th, 2011 by Todd South in News

Defendants Antonio Henry, left, and Brendan Barnes are led into Judge Don Poole's courtroom in December 2011 where a trial date was set in the slaying of pastor David Strong.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Two cousins will be tried together in May in the beating and stabbing death of Chattanooga pastor David Strong.

Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole on Thursday set a May 22 trial date for Brendan Barnes, 17, and Antonio Henry, 26.

The pair's attorneys had asked for separate trials.

Also Thursday, Barnes' attorney, Executive Assistant District Public Defender Karla Gothard, objected strongly to redactions of Barnes' and Henry's statements prepared for trial by District Attorney Bill Cox, Executive Assistant District Attorney Neal Pinkston and Henry's attorney, Dan Ripper.

"I object to every one of these redactions," Gothard told Poole. "It makes it sound like Brendan Barnes was acting alone. It cuts out relevant portions of his statement."

Poole told the attorneys to meet in person and work out differences in the redacted statements, and have further motions or objections ready for a Jan. 30 hearing. He said the defendants' attorneys also will be allowed then to argue further for separate trials.

Barnes and Henry have been charged with first-degree murder and especially aggravated robbery.

The pair told police they beat Strong, 55, on Oct. 5, 2010, at his home at 404 Glenwood Drive, according to court documents. Police found his body days later.

Each of the cousins blames the other for the stab wounds that a medical examiner's report says killed Strong.

Gothard quoted the redacted statement to Poole.

"They put the knife in the bag and carried it off," she said. "It makes it sound like it's a knife he has. It totally destroys the meaning of his statement."

Pinkston and Cox said the redacted statements were in the file and discussed at the previous hearing, which Gothard missed. Her co-counsel in the case is Steve Brown, also an assistant public defender.

Prosecutors have said the statements will be used in the trial. The cousins cannot be compelled to testify against each other if there is a chance either one could incriminate himself.

For that reason, redacting the statements to remove any reference to a co-defendant is key to maintaining a fair trial, Poole said.

Ripper told Poole that Henry still is undergoing a mental competency evaluation.

If deemed not competent to stand trial, Henry's case would not proceed.

"Everything we do is contingent upon that," Poole said.

Henry told the Chattanooga Times Free Press in an October 2010 interview he "snapped" when Strong asked him to masturbate while he and Barnes were at Strong's home smoking marijuana.

An autopsy showed both alcohol and THC, marijuana's active ingredient, in Strong's blood.