Slaying suspect's attorney questions validity of statement

Slaying suspect's attorney questions validity of statement

November 10th, 2010 by Chris Carroll in News

The attorney for a man charged with killing a local pastor said his client's "alleged confessions may not have been voluntary" after a police detective testified that the accused spent 17 hours in police custody before he was interviewed.

"It could potentially raise questions about the admissibility of his statement to police," attorney Cris Helton said Tuesday.

Helton said he requested a copy of Antonio Henry's statement to police, but authorities never provided one. He also said his client was not given the opportunity to make a phone call before the interview.

Hamilton County District Attorney Bill Cox did not return a call seeking comment.

The Rev. David Strong, 55, was beaten with blunt force and stabbed 29 times, according to an autopsy report, with one wound six inches deep in the pastor's neck. Strong was pastor of Chattanooga's St. Paul AME Church.

Police have charged Henry and his 16-year-old cousin Brendan Barnes with first-degree murder and especially aggravated robbery.

Helton would not say how several autopsy revelations may affect his client's defense.

Researchers uncovered alcohol and marijuana's key ingredient in a blood test performed on Strong three days after police found his decomposing body inside his Glenwood Drive home Oct. 10.

The toxicology report describes a THC finding of 4.2 nanograms per milliliter, an impossible amount to generate from secondhand marijuana smoke, according to a University of Wisconsin forensic toxicology expert.

"It's not possible to get those results from passive inhalation," Laura Liddicoat said. "It could have been one hit off a bong 10 minutes before [his death] or it could have been several joints."

Based on chemistry formulas, Liddicoat estimated Strong smoked "anywhere from one-half hour up to about 2 1/2 hours" before death.

The timing of marijuana use may be pivotal to what happened before the slaying, because police said the suspects assaulted Strong for about two hours.

In jailhouse interviews, Henry, a 25-year-old repeat offender, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that he and Barnes smoked a "blunt" -- a marijuana-stuffed cigar -- with Strong at the pastor's house on Oct. 4. He said the pastor then made unwanted sexual advances toward Henry, causing the suspects to "snap."

But during a preliminary hearing last week, a police detective said Henry told authorities he went to Strong's house to "make money" masturbating in front of the pastor. Henry told police he stole a "dime bag of marijuana" from the pastor's house, among other items.

Police haven't offered an explanation on why a supposedly consensual visit among Strong, Henry and Barnes turned deadly. There were no signs of forced entry to Strong's house, police said.

Strong's toxicology report also shows a 0.092 blood alcohol content, which is higher than the 0.08 legal limit.

"Does it mean impaired judgment, reduced inhibitions, greater risk taking? Yes," Liddicoat said. "Those sorts of things might come into play."

Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at ccarroll@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6610.


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