Murder charges filed against Miner, Mo., woman accused in fatal incident at drinking party

Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Lt. Mike Williams, left, and Det. Bobby Sullivan make observations of where the truck stopped in relation to where Kendra Gray, as depicted by the cone, was reported standing early July 24, when she was killed from the impact of being hit by the truck. (Michelle Felter/Standard Democrat)

BENTON, Mo. -- Following additional investigation, an 18-year-old Miner woman now faces murder charges for the death of another local teen.

On Monday, the state filed new charges against Brianna Branson related to the July death of Kendra Gray. Branson, who is charged with second-degree murder, turned herself in to Scott County authorities Monday evening and was later released.

Branson was initially charged with second-degree murder the day after the incident. That information was presented to a Scott County grand jury that returned an indictment for leaving the scene and disposing of evidence from the party, declining to charge Branson, who turned 18 in August, with second-degree murder and second-degree assault.

The charges stem from an incident that occurred early July 24, outside an underage drinking party at 908 Westview Drive. The two teens were at the party and had been arguing. According to reports, Gray attempted to assault Branson as Branson left the residence, but was stopped by other minors. Branson and her friend, Heather Adams, then hurried to leave the scene in Adams' truck, which Branson drove.

Reports state that as the truck was ready to move forward, Gray was running from the house into the street and stopped near the middle of the road. As Branson moved forward in the vehicle, she struck Gray and continued in a northern direction as Gray's body was run over by the truck. Branson drove the vehicle away from the scene, returning after disposing of the alcohol in the truck.

Gray died of her injuries.

After the grand jury refused to indict Branson on two of the charges, chief Drew Juden of the Sikeston Department of Public Safety ordered additional investigation. The department and the Missouri State Highway Patrol, revisited the scene.

"We wanted a better way to explain the incident to a jury or judge, a better way to show the facts of the case," Juden said.

He and his staff did research to find an independent company that creates computer-generated models, then worked to take photos and video during a re-enactment.

The accident reconstruction included using the truck used in the incident, as well as firsthand testimony and a walk-through of the events the morning of July 24 from Adams. During the re-enactment, she remembered several things that were not told in the original statement, including the speed of the truck and distance between the victim and front of the truck.

Adams also recalled Branson allegedly saying, "I'm not going to stop. I'll hit [Gray]," as the vehicle backed out of the driveway and before Gray ran into the roadway.

According to the probable-cause statement, a detective drove the truck at the speed Adams recalled, and another detective yelled "stop" when the truck reached the point where Gray was reportedly standing.

The detective "was able to stop in plenty time without striking the cone that represented the victim," detective Bobby Sullivan wrote in the probable-cause statement. The detective "went through going as fast as the truck would go and was able to stop prior to striking the cone that was set up as Ms. Gray."

Juden said the re-enactment provided some answers in the case.

"I think it clears up some questions we had and gives everyone a better feeling for how this incident unfolded," he said. "By taking the actual vehicle, we were able to get an understanding for how fast it was traveling and get a better location for the victim when she was struck."

Juden said the department worked to ensure efficiency; drafts of the video were sent to the department and its staff, as well as witnesses, who gave feedback.

"We wanted to make sure that whatever we did was [as] true and accurate [a] representation as possible," Juden said.

Scott County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Boyd applauded Juden's efforts.

It "is a tragic event for the victim, the defendant and the witnesses who were at the scene," Boyd said. "I praise chief Juden for taking the necessary steps to discover new evidence that better explains what occurred between Ms. Branson and Ms. Gray for the families, the officers and any person who will review the evidence in the future."

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