The second of two men indicted in federal court in the 2018 murder of a Pine Bluff pawnshop owner pleaded guilty in court Tuesday to one count of interference with commerce by threats or violence resulting in murder.
Rodney Tyrone Henry, 25, of Camden, pleaded guilty to the charge contained in a superseding information before U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr., in exchange for the government's dismissal of the indictment against him. Henry is facing a maximum penalty of life in prison when he is sentenced sometime next year.
On Nov. 12, 2018, shortly after 5:30 p.m., two men tried to rob the Wise Buck Pawn Shop in Pine Bluff, wounding the owner, Brandon McHan, and Jason Booth, a friend of McHan's, in an exchange of gunfire. McHan died later that night of his wounds at Jefferson Regional Medical Center. Although seriously wounded, Booth survived the shooting.
According to court records, Henry and Daryl Anthony Dwayne Strickland Jr., also 25, were arrested Dec. 4, 2018, after investigators, acting on a tip, went to a Camden residence where the two men were living and, in the course of the investigation, recovered a shell casing from the residence that matched shell casings recovered at the scene.
Henry, who has been in custody since his arrest, was escorted into the courtroom by federal marshals, and seated with his attorneys, Robert Golden and Leslie Borgognoni and began reading through and signing documents related to his case. Family members of both Henry and McHan entered the courtroom and sat on opposite sides of the gallery.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Benecia Moore outlined the terms of the plea agreement, in which Henry agreed to plead to the superseding information in exchange for the dismissal of the indictment against him.
According to the plea agreement, it will be left up to Moody to determine if the murder of McHan was premeditated. Borgognoni noted that should Moody decide McHan's murder was premeditated, the defense had reserved the right to appeal that determination along with the reasonableness of a life sentence, should Moody decide on that as a penalty.
"Despite the fact that might be a guideline sentence?" Moody asked.
"Correct," Borgognoni replied.
Moore said on the evening of McHan's murder, Henry and Strickland knocked on the door of the Wise Buck Pawn Shop and were told the store was closed. She said both men appeared to leave the area, after which McHan and Booth walked outside and started their vehicles to warm them up, then re-entered the store to finish closing.
"At 5:34 p.m.," Moore said, "Strickland and Henry entered the threshold of the pawnshop and Strickland fired several gunshots, striking both Booth and McHan several times."
She said the pair then retreated but two minutes later, re-entered the threshold and Strickland began firing again but was driven back by return fire from McHan. She said as Strickland retreated, Henry began firing into the pawnshop, then Strickland returned and began firing into the pawnshop once again before both men fled the scene.
Moore said McHan, who was shot three times, died later that evening. She said he was shot in his stomach, his right thigh and right lower leg. She said Booth, who was standing near the pawnshop entrance, was shot in his face and left hand.
She said about an hour later, both men entered an Alon gas station in Pine Bluff and robbed it, making off with about $800 and a pistol belonging to the store clerk.
Moody questioned Henry about the attempted robbery, insisting that Henry describe his participation.
"Explain to me how you did that," he said.
Henry admitted to approaching the entrance of the pawnshop and firing inside the store.
"Do you admit that Brandon McHan was murdered with a firearm through the perpetration of this crime?" Moody asked.
"Yes, sir," Henry responded.
"How do you plead?" Moody asked.
"Before I plea I just want to say I'm sorry to the family and I'm sorry to my family," Henry said. "I plead guilty."
Strickland pleaded guilty last month to one count of threatening or causing physical violence to another person during a robbery. Both men were initially indicted on charges of conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, attempt to interfere with commerce by robbery, interference with commerce by robbery, brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, and murder while discharging a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.
Both men will be sentenced following completion of a pre-sentencing report by the U.S. Probation Office. The government has said it will seek a life sentence for both men.