A judge Wednesday sentenced a Tahlequah man to 40 years after he pleaded guilty to charges he killed a pedestrian last year in a hit-and-run crash.

Special District Judge Sandy Crosslin ordered Charles Patrick Hendricks, now 18, to serve 25 years of the sentence in prison and the 15-year balance on probation.

Hendricks, originally charged with second-degree murder, pleaded guilty last month to first-degree manslaughter. He has been in jail since his arrest in late June 2005, and has now been ordered held in the Cherokee County Jail until he can be transported to the Department of Corrections.

State law requires Hendricks, who was 17 at the time he was charged, to serve 85 percent of the 25-year prison sentence, or 21-1/4 years, before he’ll be eligible for parole. Hendricks was charged as a youthful offender, but prosecutors won a legal battle when Crosslin ruled at an earlier hearing that if convicted, Hendricks could be sentenced as an adult. Hendricks appealed that decision, but the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Crosslin’s decision.

First Assistant District Attorney Donovan Dobbs, in asking for a life sentence for Hendricks, told Crosslin that Hendricks is only concerned about himself and what’s good for him. He said Hendricks excelled while at Thunderbird Youth Academy and Cedar Canyon because he knew what he had to do to get out of there as quickly as possible.

“He’s a psychopath,” Dobbs argued. “He has a complete disregard for others and just cares about himself.”

The prosecutor said Hendricks’ “crocodile tears” were being shed because he doesn’t want to go to prison. He also pointed out Hendricks stood in court on June 21, 2005 – one week after hitting and killing 60-year-old Lankford Leigh with a vehicle – and never said anything about the incident while the judge released him from Office of Juvenile Affairs custody after a probationary period for an unrelated offense.

“Those kind of people are dangerous,” Dobbs said. “He’s a young Ted Bundy, and for the protection of society and the protection of the people of Cherokee County, we ask for a life sentence.”

Shannon Otteson, Hendricks’ court-appointed attorney, said her client fully admits his responsibility and realizes he is absolutely to blame for Leigh’s death. She said Hendricks has expressed remorse and wants to write to Leigh’s family. She also disagreed with Dobbs’ assertion that Hendricks is a psychopath.

“He’s had a difficult life in his short 18 years,” she said. “A life sentence in this case would be a gross miscarriage of justice and would show that our system doesn’t work.”

Otteson said she believes Hendricks can be rehabilitated, and asked the court for leniency.

“I have to determine what sentence is appropriate based on his opportunity for rehabilitation, the protection of the public and to deter any future crimes,’ Crosslin said.

She said she has to consider the demeanor of the witnesses, the factual basis of the witnesses, and other factors in reaching a decision.

Crosslin heard two versions of what happened when Leigh was hit in the early morning of June 14, 2005, and died later in a Tulsa hospital.

James Owens, who delivered milk to Reasor’s for Highland Dairy at the time of the incident, described the chain of events one way, while Hendricks and Kelsi Boyd – who was with Hendricks that morning – recalled a different version.

Owens had just finished his delivery and walked onto the back dock at Reasor’s when he saw a man – Leigh – walking on the side of the road. Leigh was wearing an orange vest and carrying a flashlight with an orange cover over the lighted portion. The car “bunny hopped,” or lurched, behind him six to eight times before accelerating quickly and hitting Leigh.

“He [Leigh] went flying over the hood,” Owens told Crosslin. “His feet were flailing in the air.”

Owens said Leigh hit the car’s windshield before falling to the ground. He said the car sped off afterward, and he estimated its speed at 50-60 mph. Owens said he rushed to Leigh as he called 911. He saw scratches on Leigh’s elbow, and Leigh was bleeding from an ear.

“I yelled at him a couple of times, but I got no response,” Owens said.

Boyd said she grew up with Hendricks and has known him most of her life. She said Hendricks was taking her and another passenger home when they approached Leigh. Dobbs said later in the hearing that neither Boyd nor Matt, the other passenger, lived near Reasor’s, and Hendricks had no reason to be there at 4 a.m. He said Hendricks saw Leigh and decided “he was going to jack with him.”

Boyd said Hendricks drove slowly behind Leigh and couldn’t go around him for a period of time.

“[Leigh] sat down on the hood of the car and rolled off the right side,” Boyd said. “I saw him sit up. We didn’t think he was going to die.”

She said they would have stopped and tried to help, and would have called police, if they had known he was hurt.

Boyd went to the Tahlequah Police Department June 29 to report what happened after discussing it with her parents. She said she and Hendricks had both been drinking beer prior to the incident. She said Hendricks could have eventually gone around Leigh.

Hendricks testified he made the car lurch to get Leigh’s attention. He said when Leigh stopped walking, he hit his brakes, and Leigh sat on the hood. He said he didn’t come forward and report the incident because he’d just gotten out of trouble for fighting.

“I heard him [Leigh] cussing,” Hendricks said referring to after the incident. “I didn’t think he was injured.”

Hendricks said he left the area at a normal rate of speed. He and Boyd testified Owens’ estimate of their speed leaving the scene was exaggerated.

He testified he quit drinking before leaving his house the morning of June 14. He said he was going to go and try to find a job and help his mother.

“I’m truly sorry,” he testified. “I know saying you’re sorry doesn’t cut it. When you lose someone you love it hurts.”

Hendricks said saying you’re sorry is a step to forgiveness. He said he wants forgiveness from not only Leigh’s family, but from everybody.

Hendricks also said he realizes he does well when he’s away from Tahlequah in places like Thunderbird and Cedar Canyon, and gets into trouble shortly after returning home. Troy Bowline, from the Cherokee County Juvenile Services Unit, testified Hendricks was adjudicated delinquent 13 times.

“I was gonna leave, but I didn’t do it quick enough,” Hendricks testified. “I’ve learned that I need to grow up and help my mom.”

He told the court he’s grown up a lot.

Dobbs, after presenting testimony, told the judge he wanted to introduce a flier from Leigh’s funeral as an exhibit. He said the purpose is not to be inflammatory, but to offer the court some information about Leigh and his life.

Otteson initially objected arguing that the flier was inflammatory and irrelevant.

“It’s irrelevant because he [pointing at Hendricks] doesn’t want to go to prison for killing this man,” Dobbs countered. “This is not meant to invoke sympathy.”

Otteson said no one is trying to make light of what has happened. Crosslin asked whether Otteson would object if Dobbs attempted to call a Leigh family member to testify about the victim’s life, and she answered she would not object.

“What’s the difference?” Crosslin asked.

“If that was his point, he’d have them here to testify,” Otteson said.

She ultimately withdrew her objection.

Bowline, who’s been with the JSU office 17 years, said a number of Hendricks’ cases as a juvenile were assaults. Some were felonies and others were misdemeanors. Two of the more serious incidents involved a DUI, and a fight where Hendricks kicked an NSU student in the head, and the victim had to be taken to a Tulsa hospital by LifeFlight. He was involved in a crash in the DUI case, and the person in the car with him spent 31 days in an intensive care unit.

“His [the DUI crash victim] prognosis is poor,” Bowline told the court. “He’ll have to be supervised the rest of his life and he’s partially paralyzed.”

Bowline said the DUI occurred in Sequoyah County. He also testified Hendricks has a lot of potential and above average intelligence. He said he was probably one of the best to ever go through the Cedar Canyon system.

Bowline said he doesn’t recall Hendricks asking him about writing a letter of apology to Leigh’s family. Hendricks testified Bowline indicated that may not be a good idea and suggested he speak with Otteson about it.

Some of Leigh’s neighbors attended the sentencing and have been at previous hearings and were pleased with the outcome. They said Dobbs did a good job communicating with them about the progression of the case.

“He [Leigh] was a good neighbor,” Ellen Johnson said. “I think justice was served and we’re very appreciative.”

Johnson and fellow neighbors Gwen Pickard and Hank Tye said Leigh didn’t have family in Cherokee County. Johnson said a sister of Leigh has cancer.

Pickard said they live in a Cherokee Nation Housing Authority neighborhood with older people some of whom are disabled.

“He [Leigh] was always there to help,” Pickard said. “He served our community.”

Johnson said Leigh often wore the orange vest Owens saw him in that fateful morning, and at times, would wear it during daylight.

“He wanted to be seen,” Tye said.


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