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Pennebaker pleads guilty Friday to 2008 close-range gunfight with deputy
Pennebaker pleads guilty Friday to 2008 close-range gunfight with deputy

Rex A. Pennebaker
DIXON, Mo. (Dec. 18, 2009 UPDATED Dec. 19, added photo) — The man accused of shooting a Pulaski County deputy during a 2008 trailer court gunfight south of Dixon had been expected to go to trial in January but pleaded guilty instead on Friday.

According to Pulaski County Circuit Court records, Rex A. Pennebaker, 33, of Dixon, entered an Alford plea to six criminal charges accusing him of numerous felonies including shooting Deputy Don Hayden and assaulting two other people last year on June 10. An Alford plea is treated by the court as a guilty plea for the purpose of sentencing, but based on a 1970 precedent, the defendant maintains his right to deny his guilt while admitting that the evidence is sufficient to convict him.

Hayden had become a full-time sheriff’s deputy just two days before he was shot. He’s a retired Army CID agent who until June 8 had been volunteering as a reserve deputy for the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department.

Circuit Judge Tracy Storie examined Pennebaker on Friday and sentenced him to two consecutive terms of 25 years each in state prison for the Class A felony of first degree assault of a law enforcement officer and a related charge of armed criminal action, five years for the Class C felony of second-degree domestic assault of a woman, and 10 years for the Class B felony of first-degree assault of a man that same evening. He also received 20 years for armed criminal action in the assault on the woman and seven years for armed criminal action in the assault on the man.

According to Sheriff J.B. King, Pennebaker is expected to spend a total of about 46 years in prison, which would make him nearly 80 years old before his release.

An additional eight counts were dropped as part of the plea agreement between Prosecutor Deborah Hooper and Pennebaker’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Stacy Leigh Patterson.

The hail of gunfire that injured both Pennebaker and Hayden led to Hayden receiving the Missouri Medal of Valor in November from Gov. Jay Nixon.

Hayden received four shots, two of which would likely have been fatal if they had not been stopped by his ballistic vest. His wounds were not life-threatening but he continues to suffer some effects from the shooting including impaired use of his hand. Pennebaker’s initial injuries were so serious that he was airlifted to the University of Missouri Hospital in Columbia by the Staff for Life helicopter service, but he eventually recovered sufficiently to stand trial.

According to court records and police reports, Hayden responded late on the evening of June 10 to a disturbance near a trailer court south of Dixon on the corner of Highway D and Highway 28, and got out of his car about four feet away from Pennebaker’s car, though the two men moved about 15 feet away from each other once the shootout began.

Deputies had responded earlier in the evening to a 911 call from a person that a man with a gun had shot at a resident and then fled the scene. Deputies and numerous other law enforcement attempted to find the shooter but were unsuccessful and most law enforcement personnel except Hayden and a state trooper left. About a half-hour later, the original assault victim said she saw Pennebaker’s car passing her home on Highway D. The state trooper began to pursue Pennebaker, who then drove off the road and began to drive through yards to reach the home of the original assault victim while the trooper was chasing him. Hayden drove across lawns, blocked Pennebaker’s car, and “a close-range gunfight began with many rounds fired.”

According to the governor’s citation in the Medal of Valor presentation to Hayden, he “ended a shooting rampage by a heavily armed suspect at a trailer court in Dixon by shooting the suspect.”

“Deputy Hayden responded to a domestic violence assault inside a trailer, shots fired at a neighbor, and the bludgeoning of another neighbor with a pistol,” according to the citation. “(Pennebaker) had fled but was then spotted returning to the trailer court. To protect residents, Deputy Hayden drove toward the suspect and used his patrol car to block the suspect's vehicle. The suspect exited his vehicle and started firing. More than twenty shots were fired by Deputy Hayden and the suspect in a close-range gun battle.”

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