Mitchell guilty on all counts in 2021 traffic death of Steve Henry in Emporia

Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 7:27 AM CST
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EMPORIA, Kan. (WIBW) - A man has been found guilty on all counts in the traffic death in March 2021 of former Emporia State University standout football player Steve Henry, who played three seasons in the National Football League.

KVOE Radio reports Devawn Mitchell was found guilty of first-degree felony murder, aggravated assault on law enforcement and felony fleeing and eluding in a two-day bench trial at the Lyon County District Courthouse in Emporia.

The fatal crash occurred March 18,, 2021, during a police chase in which authorities said Mitchell was fleeing from officers in the vehicle he was driving.

The verdict was handed down Tuesday and followed testimony by several experts and individuals directly involved in the case.

Individuals providing testimony included Dr. Altaf Hossain who spoke about the injuries Henry sustained in the crash; former Emporia police officer Jordan Pacheco, who detailed her involvement in the initial pursuit of Mitchell; and prosecution experts, who said they found neither drugs or alcohol in Mitchell’s system during the testing process that occurred after the March 18 crash.

In earlier reports, KVOE said Mitchell led two short pursuits at high rates of speed in Emporia. It said Mitchell tried to ram a police vehicle, which started the first chase. It said he also continued speeding after the second chase ended when he crashed into the pickup driven by Steve Henry, 64.

Emporia police said Mitchell was observed speeding along Commercial Street just before 1:30 p.m. March 18, 2021.

An officer was able to avoid a ram attempt from Mitchell and started a pursuit, but called it off before the chase entered a residential area.

KVOE reported that court records indicated the officer recognized Mitchell and swerved to avoid the contact.

A second officer then spotted Mitchell on the west side of Emporia less than an hour later. Officers waited, eventually blocking off the roads in front and behind Mitchell, and placing stop sticks in front of his vehicle.

The officers tried negotiating with Mitchell, KVOE said, who drove over a small tree to escape, leading to another brief chase that was then called off.

The collision occurred around 2:40 p.m. on W. Sixth Street between Chestnut and Lawrence streets in Emporia.

Emporia police said an officer in an unmarked vehicle saw Mitchell speeding along W. 6th Street -- which is also US-50 highway -- before witnessing a large dust cloud resulting from the wreck.

Kansas Highway Patrol officials said Mitchell struck the rear of Henry’s vehicle, sending it into a power pole off the right side of the street.

According to KVOE, the collision sent Henry’s truck airborne.

Mitchell’s vehicle then came to a stop in the center of 6th Street.

Mitchell, who was 23 at the time of the crash, then was taken into custody.

Mitchell was reported to be on probation when the crash occurred after he was convicted of aggravated assault and attempted burglary in 2018.

Following his arrest, Mitchell was being held on a $1 million bond in the Lyon County Jail.

From 1975 to 1978, Henry was a standout football player and track and field athlete at Emporia State, where he is in the university’s Hall of Honor.

According to Emporia State officials, Henry was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1979 National Football League draft. He played three years in the NFL, including in eight games with the Cardinals in 1979; five with the New York Giants in 1980; and two games with the Baltimore Colts in 1981.

Henry, who was 64 at the time of his death, had one interception in his NFL career, against San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana in 1980.

Before his death, Henry had recently retired from Wolf Creek Nuclear Power Plant and was a color analyst on the radio for several Emporia State football games during the 2019 season.

His wife Becky worked in the Emporia State Athletics compliance office until her retirement in 2017.

The couple had three children.

With Tuesday’s verdict, Mitchell faces 25 years to life in prison.

Sentencing is set for 9 a.m. March 11 at in Lyon County District Court in Emporia.

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