published Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

Antonio Henry pleads guilty in 2010 slaying of Chattanooga pastor

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    Antonio Henry, 28, appears before Judge Don Poole to plead guilty early Tuesday morning, April 9, 2013 on charges of beating a local pastor to death in the man's home, stealing his credit cards and car with with help from his cousin Brendan Barnes, 19.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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The co-defendant and cousin of a man who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the 2010 beating death of a local pastor will face a hearing on the same charges April 23.

On Tuesday, Antonio Henry, 28, admitted to his part in the October 2010 killing of Pastor David Strong, who had led the flock of St. Paul AME Church before his death. His trial on first-degree murder and especially aggravated robbery charges was set to start that day.

His cousin, Brendan Barnes, 19, has not had a trial date set. The April 23 date will determine the next steps in his court proceedings.

Prosecutor Neal Pinkston said there was no promise by Henry to testify against Barnes.

As part of his plea deal Henry will serve 20 years in prison. He faced a life sentence with parole if convicted on the first-degree murder charge and a 15-to-25-year sentencing range on the second-degree murder count.

Henry also pleaded guilty to the especially aggravated robbery charge. It also carried a 20-year sentence, but that will be served alongside the second-degree murder conviction.

In a 2010 jailhouse interview with the Times Free Press Henry said he and Barnes had beaten Strong after the three of them had smoked marijuana and Strong propositioned the pair for sex.

Many of the details alleged by both sides in the case stood to be revealed in the course of the planned trial. A plea avoids the lengthy public display, both Pinkston and defense attorney Dan Ripper said.

"Hopefully this allows the Strong family to leave with hopefully good and lasting impressions of their brother and their son, as opposed to what sometimes trials show or what's argued," Pinkston said.

Ripper echoed some of that thinking in a separate interview after the hearing.

"Part of the reason for reaching this was so that [Strong's] family and Mr. Henry and Mr. Barnes didn't have to deal with all that," Ripper said.

Pressed for details, Ripper said it would be "counterproductive" to make the information public.

Police arrested Henry in Strong's Chrysler PT Cruiser on Oct. 10, 2010, five days after the 55-year-old man was killed. Officers also found records that Henry had used Strong's charge cards for purchases between the death and his arrest.

Family members and church members specifically requested in the court hearing not to be contacted by the media.

A 40-year friend of Strong's said when contacted by phone in Clarksville, Tenn., on Tuesday that she was at first angry about the plea but knew that's not how the pastor would have wanted her to feel.

"I know David would want me to be forgiving," Faye Perkins said. "Let the people know how loving ... how sweet he was and how he would do anything for anybody."

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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