Pastor slaying suspect to be tried as an adult

Pastor slaying suspect to be tried as an adult

February 4th, 2011 by Chris Carroll in News

Antonio Henry, 25, listens as the prosecution presents evidence against him during his preliminary hearing at the Hamilton County Courthouse in Judge Bob Moon's courtroom on Wednesday. Henry allegedly murdered Pastor David Strong after being asked to perform sex acts. Henry and his 16-year-old cousin Brendan Barnes are charged with criminal impersonation, felony murder, and aggravated robbery.

Brendan Barnes, the 16-year-old charged with killing a Chattanooga pastor, was deemed mentally competent Thursday to stand trial as an adult, despite his attorney's attempts to minimize the teen's role in the crime.

After a 90-minute hearing in Hamilton County Juvenile Court, Judge Suzanne Bailey ordered Barnes transferred to the Hamilton County Jail. He will be held "separate and apart" from adult inmates, Bailey assured Barnes' mother.

Police have charged Barnes and his 25-year-old cousin, Antonio Henry, with first-degree murder and especially aggravated robbery.

Barnes' case will "start all over" at Hamilton County Criminal Court, but a date has not been set, according to his attorney, Kevin Stanfield.

The transfer hearing came after several delays, mostly to accommodate competency tests administered by mental health professionals who found that Barnes is mentally fit to stand trial.

Court testimony Thursday revealed that Barnes could perform everyday tasks, including finding his high school bus stop in the morning, comprehending the NBC show "Heroes" and finding rap stations on the radio.

Defense witnesses labeled Barnes as Henry's young follower, but Bailey - weighing "the most serious offense that there is" - rejected that line of reasoning as a way to keep him in the juvenile system.

"He has the ability to succeed; he has not done that," Bailey said. "He still has the ability not to follow."

With his mother's right arm draped across his shoulders and dreadlocks tumbling over his ears, Barnes sat slumped over during the hearing, occasionally shooting glances toward reporters. He avoided eye contact with Bailey as attorneys went through his prior criminal history, which includes an aggravated assault conviction at age 12.

On Oct. 10, police found the Rev. David Strong's battered and decomposing body at his Glenwood Drive home. An autopsy report revealed that Strong's killers beat his face, tied his wrists and ankles and stabbed him 29 times.

Investigators said he had been dead for at least five days.

Several new details emerged in Thursday's hearing, including the pastor's final moments. Chattanooga police Detective Michael Wenger testified that Barnes said Strong was "breathing heavy" as the pair left with the pastor's PT Cruiser.

TIMELINE

Oct. 10 - The Rev. David Strong, pastor of Chattanooga's St. Paul AME Church, is found dead in his home after police pull over Antonio Henry, 25, and Brendan Barnes, 16, who are riding in Strong's Chrysler PT Cruiser.

Oct. 13 - A medical examiner's report reveals Strong was stabbed 29 times. Some of the stab wounds went 5 inches deep.

Oct. 17 - In jailhouse interviews with the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Henry says he "snapped" when Strong repeatedly pressed him to perform a sex act for $100.

Nov. 3 - Chattanooga Police Detective Michael Wenger testifies that Henry told police that Strong sometimes paid him to perform sex acts. Wenger did not say why Henry and Barnes' visit turned into a prolonged attack on the pastor.

Nov. 6 - Alcohol and THC - marijuana's active ingredient - are found in Strong's system during an autopsy.

Feb. 3 - Barnes is ruled mentally competent to stand trial as an adult in Hamilton County Criminal Court. He is transferred from Hamilton County Juvenile Court to the Hamilton County Jail.

"God, please spare these young men ... forgive them of their sins," Barnes heard Strong say, according to Wenger.

The pair said they discarded the knife and several items they stole from Strong in a Dumpster, but authorities never found them, Wenger said.

According to Wenger's testimony, Barnes has a different story than Henry, who told the Chattanooga Times Free Press in jailhouse interviews that he beat Strong with a stick and Barnes stabbed Strong after the pastor made unwanted sexual advances on Henry.

At Thursday's hearing, Wenger said Barnes told him the pair went to "rob and possibly kill" the pastor. There was no mention of sexuality or unwanted advances during the hearing, and Wenger declined to answer questions after the hearing.

Wenger testified that Barnes said he waited outside Strong's bedroom as the pastor and Henry spoke to each other with the door closed. When Henry told Strong that Barnes "was crazy and was going to do something bad to him," the teenager said he became uncomfortable and went outside, Wenger said.

A struggle ensued in the bedroom and Henry summoned Barnes, who said he found the pastor on the ground. Henry threatened his cousin with a knife, compelling him to pick up a stick and strike the minister, Barnes told investigators.

Barnes said he did it, hitting Strong "some more times" to "prove myself" to Henry, Wenger testified.

Barnes told investigators that Strong fed the boys gumbo and grapes before the slaying, Wenger said. Henry told the Times Free Press that the trio smoked marijuana before getting a pizza.

During an autopsy, THC - marijuana's active ingredient - was found in Strong's system.

Strong was pastor at Chattanooga's St. Paul AME Church. On the church's website, a memorial page devoted to Strong's life has been taken down.