Sikeston teen testifies about night of fatal truck incident

Sunday, December 26, 2010

BENTON, Mo. -- For close to an hour Thursday, a Sikeston, Mo., teen recalled the events of a July incident that led to the death of another.

Heather Adams, 17, was one of the three witnesses called to the stand at Thursday's preliminary hearing for Brianna M. Branson, 18. Branson is charged with second-degree murder, armed criminal action and second-degree assault. She appeared before Judge Scott Horman.

According to, Branson was bound over for arraignment before Presiding Circuit Judge David A. Dolan at 9:30 a.m. Jan. 13.

The charges stem from a July 24 accident in front of 908 Westview St. in Sikeston that led to the death of Kendra Gray, who was also 18. Gray was hit by a truck driven by Branson. The two were reported to have had an ongoing feud, centered on Gray's former boyfriend, who was dating Branson.

"I don't think she meant to kill her, but she meant to let Kendra know that she wasn't taking it anymore," Adams said.

The charges were previously brought before a Scott County grand jury that, in August, declined to charge Branson with murder. After an additional investigation, the new charges were filed in October.

Detectives John Blakely and Bobby Sullivan of the Sikeston Department of Public Safety, which investigated the incident, were also called to the stand by Scott County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Boyd.

Branson's attorney, George Gilmore, called no witnesses.

Adams said she was friends with both Gray and Branson but was closer to Branson at the time of the accident.

Adams recalled that the night before the accident, she, Branson and another friend were in Cape Girardeau. They returned to Adams' home, when a friend who was at the party on Westview called to ask the girls to come over.

"I said 'I can't -- you know Kendra and Brianna do not get along,'" Adams recalled. Her friend assured her everything would be OK.

A short time later, her friend called back to again state that Gray would not start any problems. Adams said that Gray asked to speak with Branson and they talked,

Branson indicated that Gray told her there would be no problems and that Gray was "tired of fighting over this stuff." So the two decided to go to the party.

When they arrived at 908 Westview, around 2 a.m. July 24, everything was fine. Gray even complimented Branson and they spoke for awhile, before the teens -- eight or so -- sat down around the kitchen table to play a drinking game.

Adams said that Branson was not drinking and sat back. "She was on her phone, not really talking," said Adams.

A short while later, Adams said that Branson asked to take her truck, and Adams said OK. "I could tell she was uncomfortable," she said.

Branson was gone for awhile, and no one was able to get in touch with her. Later, she let those at the party know she was picking up another male friend. Once they returned, he came in, while Branson stayed in the truck, on the phone for a while.

"Then she came in and we were all fine and happy," said Adams, noting the teens were listening to music, dancing and taking pictures.

Around 5 a.m., Adams said she was tired and told Branson and others she was ready to go home. As Adams was hugging friends goodbye, someone came up to her and told her they needed to go, because Gray was mad.

Adams and Branson got in the truck, with Branson driving, as she'd only had one or one and a half beers. Two of the males at the party had held back Gray.

"I saw Kendra was trying to g! et out of the door," said Adams. The girls were waiting on their male friend, but another person said go, not to wait.

Adams said that as Branson backed up, Gray came running out of the house.

"We still kept backing up," she said. "Brianna was in a panic and she backed up all crazy."

Adams said that while she saw Gray running toward the truck, she told Branson "Just leave." But then, when Gray got closer, Adams said she told her friend to stop. "I didn't know what to do -- to hurry up and leave or to stop the truck."

Adams said that as she was moving forward Branson said "I'm not stopping. I'll hit her."

When Gray ran out in the road, Adams said, "I was like 'stop the truck. Stop my truck.'"

As the truck moved forward -- on the wrong lane -- and Gray was in the roadway, Adams said she could tell from Gray's mannerisms that she wanted to fight. Branson did not push on her brakes, said Adams, nor could she recall Branson attempting to move the wheels.

Then, Adams remembers the truck hitting Gray. She tur! ned and didn't see Gray moving, told Branson and was wondering what to do.

Branson then called her boyfriend and said "I think I killed her," Adams recalled.

The two continued to drive.

"She was all over the place, so I told her I would drive," said Adams. She told the courtroom that she insisted to her friend that they had to go back. Once they stopped, beer was thrown out of the truck, the girls switched seats, and went back to the crime scene, where police had arrived.

"Brianna got out of the truck and was like 'I did it,'" said Adams. The teens were then taken to DPS headquarters, separated and questioned.

Adams told the courtroom that she went back to the scene with DPS officers following the incident for a reenactment, using the same truck.

"They wanted me to get in the truck and see if I could make the estimates closer," she said. "They wanted me to recreate the scene from my best memory of being in the truck."

Branson said the distances she recalled were further than her estimations.

Photos and videos were taken, and the information was used to compile a computer-generated reenactment, which was shown during the hearing. Adams noted that she went to DPS to review the video and make changes three to four times, to make it accurate.

Although Adams said she had consumed three to four beers in an about four-hour period, she said that she did not feel so drunk she couldn't remember anything.

During his cross-examination, Gilmore reiterated that Adams and the others were trying to reconcile things between Branson and Gray. She confirmed that the group was all making plans -- to do things such as go to Current River the next day.

"Certainly nobody intended to fight anybody," Gilmore said. "Brianna was just trying to avoid a conflict."

Gilmore continued: "It all happened so quick that once it happened, you said you didn't know what to do and she didn't know what to do."

Adams agreed. "The situation is something you would see in a movie -- we never thought this would happen to us. It just doesn't seem real."

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