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Man Sentenced to Life for Shooting Firefighter

Man Sentenced to Life for Shooting Firefighter

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St. Louis Dispatch via YellowBrix

June 14, 2010

ST. LOUIS — Ernest Strong hobbled through the courtroom’s swinging gate Friday morning and stopped next to the man who shot him seven times.

The two did not look at each other.

“This young man has completely turned my life upside down,” Strong told the judge who was about to sentence Terrence Hendricks. “I ask that you give him as much punishment as possible.”

A St. Louis jury convicted Hendricks, 23, of St. Louis, in April of burglary, robbery and assault in a home invasion and shooting last year that left Strong permanently disabled.

On Friday, Circuit Judge David Mason called it the “crime that everyone fears the most” and gave Hendricks a life sentence plus 31 years.

Strong, 55, a firefighter and Persian Gulf War veteran once known as a pinnacle of endurance and strength, said he now struggles to make it through each day.

“I just thank God I have enough strength to do better than myself,” Strong told the court. “And that I’m part of a department that loves and supports me and my family.”

Strong was off duty on Feb. 11, 2009, the day that changed his life.

He testified that he shared lunch with his wife, Cassandra, and returned to their house in the 900 block of Beach Avenue to find a car he didn’t recognize in the driveway. He called police assuming car thieves had dumped it there.

Inside, three armed burglars were ransacking the house. One hit Strong’s developmentally disabled daughter, who was home alone. They fled when they saw Strong arrive.

Two jumped a backyard fence while Hendricks confronted Strong in the driveway. Hendricks fired eight shots and fled. Police found him hiding nearby about an hour later. They also found his sweat shirt with an empty revolver in the pocket, according to testimony.

A jury convicted Hendricks, of the 3500 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, of first-degree assault, first-degree burglary, first-degree robbery, third-degree assault and three counts of armed criminal action.

Demar Cotton, 20, pleaded guilty in April of robbery, burglary and armed criminal action in the incident. He is scheduled for sentencing June 25.

The third person involved was not charged.

Strong spent about a month in the hospital and faces several more weeks in a rehabilitation center.

He has undergone nine surgeries. One of the bullets hit him in the upper spine. Two metal rods in his neck hold up his head. His windpipe, esophagus and liver also were damaged. He has suffered blood clots in his legs and has nerve damage.

Officials and colleagues at the St. Louis Fire Department have donated sick time and raised money for Strong’s care.

He returned to work in an administrative assignment, fire officials say.

After receiving his sentence Friday, Hendricks turned to Strong in the courtroom and offered an apology.

“I’m just sorry for what happened to you and your family, Mr. Strong,” he said. “I apologize for putting you through this.”