By JAMIE SATTERFIELD
Knoxville News Sentinel, TN
His attorney asked for mercy.
A federal jury Wednesday showed none, delivering two guilty verdicts for this 70-year-old retired plumber accused of ambushing a group of lawmen.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Phillips ordered William T. Hendricks immediately jailed pending sentencing on the jury's finding that the retiree assaulted with deadly intent a federal officer and knowingly discharged a gun in the process.
He faces a minimum mandatory 10-year prison term.
After the verdicts were announced, Hendricks' wife called TVA Police Sgt. Robert Klyce a "lying (expletive)" before leaving the courtroom via a walker. Klyce, as the sole federal officer in the group of lawmen fired on by Hendricks in August 2004, was the lead agent in the case.
Her reaction mirrored the mannerisms of her husband during much of the two-day trial.
Despite defense attorney Doug Trant's attempts to quiet Hendricks, he often laughed out loud during officers' testimony. At one point Hendricks took off his eyeglasses and offered them up to TBI Agent Alex Rodriguez when Trant was quizzing the agent on whether he saw a "no trespassing" sign posted on a pole on Hendricks' Roane County property.
It was against the backdrop of his client's own ornery demeanor that Trant called upon jurors in closing arguments Wednesday to consider Hendricks' age and his wife's failing health when deciding his fate.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracee Plowell countered Hendricks' age did not stop him from firing on lawmen who crossed his property to chop down marijuana plants, cursing them and demanding that they leave his land.
"(Hendricks) wants to do whatever he wants but not suffer the consequences of his actions," Plowell told jurors. "Make no mistake, ladies and gentlemen. None of these things gives him or anyone else a license to commit violent crimes, to shoot at, to assault the police."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Cook told jurors that Hendricks already had been shown mercy - by the very lawmen he fired on.
"Those officers had every reason, every justification to shoot the defendant," he said. "But they didn't. Every day these officers go out in the streets and enforce our laws. They live with the comfort that those same laws will protect them if they are assaulted."
Taking the witness stand earlier in trial, Hendricks left no doubt about his opinion of law enforcement, saying he doesn't trust "the law" and considered this crew, which included Rodriguez, Klyce, Alcohol Beverage Commission Agent Jason Poore and Roane County Sheriff's Department Deputy Mike Capps, trespassers.
"I did not know any of these law officers," Hendricks testified. "Besides, what were they doing on my property without notifying me?"
The encounter at issue in the case began after this team of lawmen, working together as part of the Governor's Task Force on Marijuana Eradication, were heading back from a pot find and stopped at a gate on Hendricks' property in Ten Mile.
The officers testified that they came under fire at the gate and later saw Hendricks, armed with a .22-caliber rifle, heading toward them. They testified - and Hendricks admitted - the retiree cursed them and demanded they leave his land.
Hendricks contended he initially thought they were a clan of neighborhood thieves. He insisted he only fired warning shots at them. After realizing they were lawmen, Hendricks still held onto the rifle.
"Everyone of them was pointing a gun at me, too," he said. "Would you put down your gun?"
However, he said he never fired at the officers again and instead leaned the rifle against a porch railing on a nearby trailer. The officers disagreed, and they had a spent round on the porch as proof. Klyce also testified that the 18-shot rifle only had nine rounds left in it when Hendricks was eventually disarmed.
When Cook pressed Hendricks on the discrepancy between his claim of only firing four warning shots and the nine rounds fired from the fully-loaded gun, Hendricks pointed at Klyce.
"This man here probably didn't put all of them (live rounds) in his pocket," Hendricks said.
To Hell with these SOB's. They have no business running over an old man like that. Mr. Hendricks had the courage to defend his property but nobody has the courage to stand up for him.