An Independence man has pleaded guilty to Pettis County’s lone murder of 2017.
Branden Lee Hendren, 24, made the plea at 11 a.m. Friday, saying he was guilty of fatally shooting Windsor resident Leon Hinckley.
He was sentenced to 42 years in prison with the Missouri Department of Corrections. He received consecutive sentences of 30 years for second-degree murder and 12 years for armed criminal action.
Hendren is the second defendant to plead guilty to the robbery and murder of Hinckley, 28, who was shot in a trailer park outside Sedalia on Aug. 17, 2017.
Ronald M. Cage, 30, of Kansas City, pleaded guilty in September to his role in Hinckley’s death. He will be sentenced at 9 a.m. Dec. 21 for convictions of second-degree murder, first-degree robbery, armed criminal action and unlawful possession of a firearm.
Hendren entered his guilty plea at the Clay County Courthouse in Liberty where his jury trial was scheduled to take place Dec. 13. The Pettis County Circuit Court granted his request for a change of venue earlier this year.
Pettis County Prosecuting Attorney Phillip Sawyer said Hendren gave a lengthy statement during the plea hearing in which he accepted responsibility and apologized for taking Hinckley's life.
The Pettis County Prosecutor's Office received a blessing from Hinckley's family to offer Hendren the plea agreement, which stopped the case from going to trial.
His conviction of second-degree murder has been classified as a "dangerous felony," meaning Hendren will have to serve at least 85 percent of the 30-year sentence before becoming eligible for parole. He also must serve three years of the 12-year armed criminal action sentence before having a chance at release, Sawyer said.
Hendren has been charged in another murder case in Jackson County. He is facing counts of second-degree murder and armed criminal action after the Kansas City Police Department arrested him in connection with a shooting that occurred July 21, 2017, less than a month before Hinckley’s death.
Hendren has been charged with shooting a 31-year-old man at a house in Kansas City, according to court documents. Another suspect reportedly fired a shotgun at the 31-year-old, and Hendren reportedly followed by shooting the same victim several times with a handgun.
"Knowing that we got to take the first stab at removing him, who is obviously a dangerous individual, from society, yes, I take satisfaction in that," Sawyer said. "I think the family (of Hinckley), like I said earlier, was very happy and satisfied with the resolution that we entered into today. I have no doubt that it removed a lot of stress from them."
Court records do not show that the Jackson County Circuit Court has arraigned Hendren on his charges yet. The case was first filed Oct. 22.
Investigators from the Pettis County Sheriff's Office arrested Hendren a week after the Sedalia shooting with help from the Independence Police Department. Cage avoided arrest until November 2017 when Kansas City police identified him in an unrelated incident.
The homicide investigation revealed Hendren was the person who fatally shot Hinckley, said Sheriff's Office detective Tollie Rowe, the lead investigator in the case.
Witnesses reported seeing a white man with a tan rifle and a black man with a Western-style handgun at the Sunset Village Trailer Park west of Sedalia city limits. One witness heard them tell Hinckley to "empty his pockets and give them their s−," according to court documents.
Witnesses said they saw the white man, later identified as Hendren, shoot Hinckley with the rifle before both suspects fled the area in a four-door passenger car.
Emergency responders arrived at the trailer park about 12:50 p.m. and found Hinckley with multiple gunshot wounds. The Pettis County Ambulance District took him to Bothwell Regional Health Center where he later died.
"The sad thing is these are all young men, and their lives are all changed from a brief second," Rowe said. "It’s always rewarding to see the end result of any investigation, but regardless of the outcome it never really addresses the tragedy of the end."