Chattanooga: Lengthy court battle divides families

Chattanooga: Lengthy court battle divides families

February 8th, 2011 by Todd South in News

Staff Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press Edward Kendrick sits in Judge Don Poole's courtroom on Monday during a hearing to argue for a new case to appeal his murder conviction in the 1994 slaying of his wife, Lisa Kendrick.

A rifle that fired nearly 17 years ago killed a mother, sent a father to prison and destroyed two families.

Seated in separate rows Monday, those families again saw the weapon and the father who once held it.

Edward T. Kendrick III returned to Hamilton County courts from the Morgan County Correctional Facility, where he has been serving a life sentence on a 1994 first-degree murder conviction for the death of his wife, Lisa Kendrick.

Kendrick has appealed his conviction multiple times. The hearing Monday began a process challenging portions of previous rulings on his appeals. If successful, the current hearing could bring new questions to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals and a chance for another trial.

"This matter, for Lisa, her family, the petitioner and his family, needs to be heard and, if it takes a month to do it, we will," Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole told the courtroom.

On March 6, 1994, Kendrick drove his car with his 4-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son to the BP Oil Store on Lee Highway where his wife worked, according to court documents. Witnesses said Kendrick came in the store and asked his wife "to step outside, he had something to show her."

Staff Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press Firearms expert witness Herny Jackson "Jack" Belk examines a rifle in Judge Don Poole's courtroom on Monday during a hearing to argue for a new case to appeal Edward Kendrick's murder conviction in the 1994 slaying of his wife, Lisa Kendrick.

Minutes later, the same witnesses heard an explosion, looked outside and saw Kendrick holding a Remington 7400 .30-06 rifle, "pointed straight up in the air." One witness said he saw Kendrick lean over his wife's body and say "I told you so" about six times.

She died from a gunshot wound to the chest.

Kendrick denies that he shot his wife on purpose and has maintained that he was simply moving the rifle and it "went off," firing a bullet that struck the 26-year-old mother.

Shortly after Kendrick's arrest, Chattanooga police Officer Steve Miller was shot in the foot as he moved the rifle from his patrol car to store it as evidence. Miller later said his hands were not near the trigger when the rifle fired.

After the three-hour hearing Monday, Kendrick's daughter Endia, now 21, reflected on the lingering trauma of that March night.

"I don't think anybody can really understand, when you have your mom shot and killed right in front of you, what that does to a person, because you lose both of your parents in one night," she said.

She has little sympathy for her father.

"It's just sick. When they pulled the gun out for evidence, he cried," she said. "You're not crying because a gun accidentally killed your wife, you're crying because you're guilty and you know you did it."

Her half-sister Whitley Evans, 21 -- Kendrick's daughter with another woman at the same time he was married to Endia Kendrick's mother -- doesn't think her father killed Lisa Kendrick.

"I don't believe he in any way intended to shoot her," she said after the hearing. "I feel bad for Endia -- we haven't really had a relationship -- but I feel for her because, if my mom was gone, I'd feel horrible."

The bulk of Monday's hearing focused on the rifle and testimony from a defense expert witness as to problems with the weapon's fire control mechanism.

Jack Belk, an Idaho gunsmith who has testified in at least 15 cases regarding weapons malfunctions, took the stand to answer questions about the rifle and its mechanism. Under questioning by defense attorney Jeffrey Schaarschmidt, Belk said weapons with the Remington's type of mechanism can fire without someone pulling the trigger.

"Vibration is one way that can happen, in another case, grabbing the muzzle caused the gun to fire," he said.

Prosecutor Lance Pope argued that Belk had not tested the rifle in evidence with ammunition and that he had never caused an unmodified Remington 7400 .30-06 to fire by vibration. Belk acknowledged both those points.

During his questioning of Belk, Schaarschmidt held the rifle, asking about various features of the weapon. When finished, he placed the rifle on the edge of the witness box, its barrel pointing toward the front row of the courtroom. Audience members gasped and ducked out of the way before a deputy quickly aimed the barrel toward the wall.

Attorneys finished questioning Belk on Monday. Poole said that, because of another scheduled trial, the hearing would resume either Thursday or Friday.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347.