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Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Drag racing
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: September 24, 2005
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1986
Victim profile: Cortney Hensley, 17
Method of murder: Drag racing cause fatal crash
Location: Washington County, Tennessee, USA
Status: Convicted of vehicular homicide and felony reckless endangerment. Sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2007

Trial to open for men accused of drag racing prior to fatal crash

Bradley Mullins is accused of drag racing before the crash that killed Cortney Hensley, who had just been crowned homecoming queen of her high school.

May 18, 2007

JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. Courtney Beard and Cortney Hensley were driving home after picking up their homecoming pictures when they stopped at a red light on Sept. 24, 2005.

Hensley, 17, had been crowned Homecoming Queen at David Crockett High School and she and Beard, her best friend, also 17, were anxious to look at the pictures taken the night before.

But before the light turned green, a red Ford Mustang came racing through the intersection and slammed into Beard's Honda CRV at a speed estimated at 125 mph.

The crash sent the Honda some 250 feet, causing it to burst into flames. Hensley was killed, and Beard suffered burns over 30 percent of her body. She spent the next month and a half in a hospital bed.

Prosecutors say the Mustang's driver, Bradley Mullins, was drag racing.

A Washington County jury is expected to hear opening statements this week in the trial of Mullins, 19, and David Phillips, 39.

They are charged with second-degree murder, an alternate count of vehicular homicide, and two counts of attempted murder.

The attempted murder charges stem from injuries to Beard and a female friend of Mullins, who was riding with him when the crash occurred.

Based on grand jury testimony, several witnesses are expected to testify that they saw Phillips challenge Mullins to a race at about 11:40 p.m. by inching up and revving the engine of his red Dodge Viper as the two waited at a red light.

When the light turned green, the cars raced off on the busy street, witness are expected to say.

Washington County District Attorney Pro Tempore Al Schmutzer declined to comment on the case.

Although Mullins' attorney, Don Spurrell, says his client has always accepted responsibility for the crash but he disagrees with the second-degree murder charge.

"There is no prior conduct, no ill will and absolutely nothing to suggest he intended this to happen," Spurrell said. "He was simply not motivated to kill anybody, and the state's suggestion that he did so knowingly is simply preposterous."

The defense attorney said the tragic accident was the result of a "drag race gone bad."

"He was induced by the actions of an older man in a Viper," Spurrell said. "[Phillips] egged him on and all the evidence will support the fact that Mr. Phillips had a propensity to do so."

Spurrell he intends to call a witness who will testify that one week before the crash, "Phillips attempted to race an adult on the same street where this occurred."

Phillips' attorney said that Phillips was on the street that night, but maintains his client wasn't drag racing.

"Our proof and the state's proof indicates that three police officers saw a Mustang smoke up its tires and take off at a high rate of speed," defense lawyer Richard Pectol said. "None of the three officers make any mention of a Viper being at the scene."

On the contrary, he said it was Mullins who unsuccessfully attempted to lure Phillips into racing that night.

Pectol said Phillips' stayed at the scene of the crash and gave the police a voluntary statement.

"[Phillips] tells the police that the driver of the Mustang tried to get him to race and that he shook his head no," Pectol said. "Witnesses at the scene will support his statement."

While Spurrell and Pectol agree on little about the facts in the case, they both believe their clients should have separate trials, although Judge Bob Cupp denied a previous motion. Although both attorneys filed letters with Judge Bob Cupp last week urging that the issue be reconsidered, neither of them expressed confidence that separate trials would be granted.

Neither Phillips nor Mullins has a criminal record, and neither has been offered a chance to plead guilty to lesser charges in the case, according to their lawyers.

If convicted of second-degree murder, they face 15 to 25 years in prison. The sentence for attempted murder is eight to 12 years in prison, and the sentence for a vehicular manslaughter conviction is three to six years in prison.


Prosecutor: Drag racing was cause of crash that killed homecoming queen

May 18, 2007

JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. Instead of slowing down or steering his black Mustang away from traffic, 19-year-old Bradley Mullins kept drag racing down a busy street on Sept. 24, 2005, a prosecutor said Thursday as Mullins' trial opened.

As a result, David Crockett High School's newly crowned homecoming queen, Cortney Hensley, died in a fiery car crash, charged Washington County prosecutor Al Schmutzer during his opening remarks.

Schmutzer is asking a jury to convict Mullins and David Phillips, 39, of second-degree murder for causing Hensley's death and second-degree attempted murder for severely injuring her best friend, Courtney Beard, also 17.

At approximately 11:30 p.m., Schmutzer said, Mullins was at a red light in his Ford Mustang "squealing his tires" as Phillips sat in his red Dodge Viper "revving his engine and inching up a little."

When the light turned green, the cars took off, he said.

"The Mustang, which was already going fast, for whatever reason, went faster and the Viper tailed off," Schmutzer said. "The Mustang went off like a rocket."

Sitting at a red light roughly a half-mile away were Beard and Hensley in Beard's Honda CRV.

The best friends had just picked up developed homecoming pictures at a pharmacy and were driving home to look at them.

After a police car spotted the cars and began pursuing with lights flashing, Phillips slowed down and Mullins accelerated toward the girls, who had "no idea what was about to happen," Schmutzer said.

When Mullins, who was at close to 125 mph, finally hit the brakes, it was too late. Schmutzer said the Mustang "fishtailed and jerked back," crashing into the girls' car with "so much force that it drove the Honda almost the length of a football field."

The crash caused the Honda's gas tank to rupture, and as the gas began to spill out, the car's broken gas shift dragged on the ground, creating sparks that caused the car to ignite.

Schmutzer said that, although Mullins and his girlfriend riding with him were able to get away with no major injuries, "Beard and Hensley weren't so fortunate."

The prosecutor said Beard was successfully pulled out of the burning car by people who saw the crash and had stopped to offer help.

"But they didn't know there was another person in there," Schmutzer said. "It was an inferno and it was too late."

The Good Samaritans at the scene and the police officers that arrived shortly after the crash were unable to save Hensley.

Mullins' attorney, Don Spurrell, asked the panel to "filter through this complicated story and sort out what happened in the minds of these men."

Spurrell said the tragic accident was not the result of a conscious choice, but of a series of events like the 1991 northeaster referred to as "the perfect storm."

"The confluence of events created what otherwise, with slight variation, would not have been so severe," Spurrell said

Phillips' attorney, Richard Pectol, claimed his client was not involved in the race, and was merely present at the scene in a fast car.

"It's not against the law to drive a Viper," Pectol said.

He said Phillips stopped at the scene, cooperated with police and even helped them look for black marks where the crash happened.

He also challenged the anticipated testimony of eyewitnesses, saying it can only be believed if one's definition of a drag race is "two cars sitting next to each other at a traffic light."


Two convicted of drag racing, reckless homicide and other charges in teen's death

May 22, 2007

JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. A Tennessee jury convicted two men of reckless homicide Tuesday for killing a 17-year-old homecoming queen during a drag race on a busy Johnson City street.

After deliberating for seven and a half hours, the panel chose not to convict Bradley Mullins, 19, and David Phillips, 39, of the more serious charge of second-degree murder for killing Cortney Hensley. If convicted on that charge, they could have faced up to 25 years in prison.

The jury also convicted both men of vehicular homicide for killing Hensley and reckless aggravated assault for causing the severe burns that Hensley's best friend, Courtney Beard, suffered during the fiery crash.

Mullins and Phillips were also found guilty of reckless endangerment and drag racing. At their sentencing July 31, they could face up to 15 years in prison. Judge Robert Cupp could also sentence them to as little as probation.

Mullins and Phillips did not express any emotion as the verdict was read.

Hensley and Beard were driving home on the night of Sept. 24, 2005, after picking up their homecoming pictures when they stopped at a red light. Hensley, 17, had just been crowned homecoming queen at David Crockett High School.

Prosecutor Al Schmutzer said that roughly a half-mile down the road, Mullins, who was driving a black Mustang, and Phillips, who was driving a red Viper, were revving their engines while waiting for a traffic light to turn green so they could race.

When the light turned green, Phillips pulled back, but Mullins raced through the intersection and slammed into Beard's Honda CRV at a speed estimated at 130 mph, Schmutzer said.

The crash caused the Honda to burst into flames. Hensley was killed, and Beard suffered burns over 30 percent of her body.

Schmutzer said he was pleased that both Mullins and Phillips were convicted on the same charges, because he believed that Phillips was just as responsible as Mullins for the crash.

"This is very important because we had a situation [where] we felt very strongly that Phillips was the instigator and egged it on and set it in motion," Schmutzer said.

Schmutzer argued for a second-degree murder conviction for both Mullins and Phillips, saying during closing arguments that both men knew that by engaging in a race on a busy street, "their conduct was reasonably certain to cause death or serious bodily harm."

He said that although each defendant reacted differently after being spotted by police officers, both demonstrated they knew what they were doing was criminal.

"Both of them wanted to escape getting caught," Schmutzer told the jury. "[Phillips] chose to back off and Mullins chose to flee."

Phillips has consistently denied drag racing against Mullins the night of the fatal crash, but chose not to testify.

Phillips' attorney, Richard Pectol, said his client was "obviously disappointed" by the jury's verdict.

Pectol said he found it hard to believe that the jury apparently disregarded the fact that three police officers who witnessed the race never mentioned it in their reports, which were written hours after the crash.

But Pectol told him that Phillips "still has hope and his family has hope" that the convictions will be overturned on appeal.

Mullins' attorney, Don Spurrell, said that after the verdict was read, Mullins "just came and hugged me, crying."

"I'm not sure he even knows what happened," Spurrell said. "I think the kid is very confused as to what's going to happen. He's still scared and probably hasn't slept well for two weeks."

During closing arguments, Spurrell said Mullins "has always accepted criminal responsibility for this act."

"Of course he didn't exercise judgment. He was reckless beyond belief," Spurrell said. "He's guilty of being reckless, but not of knowingly killing Hensley or injuring Beard."


Bradley Mullins was convicted of vehicular homicide and felony reckless endangerment.


Cortney Hensley and Courtney Beard on homecoming night Sept. 23, 2005. Hensley was killed in a crash the next day, while Beard was severely injured.



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