Jean Shepard’s Widower Will Not Be Charged Following Fatal Shooting
Benny Birchfield, the widower of country star Jean Shepard, will not face charges following a Saturday morning (Dec. 17) incident that resulted in the deaths of his granddaughter, 18-year-old Icie Sloan-Hawkins, and her ex-boyfriend, 21-year-old Travis Sanders. Authorities have ruled that the 79-year-old was acting in self-defense when he shot and killed Sanders.
Around 3AM on Saturday morning, authorities in Hendersonville, Tenn., received a phone call about an incident that had taken place at Birchfield’s home. When police arrived at the scene, they found Birchfield wandering in the yard with a large cut on the side of his neck and head, the Tennessean reports; inside, they discovered the deceased body of Sanders, who had been shot five times with a .38-caliber handgun, as well as Sloan-Hawkins, who had self-defense wounds and upper body injuries and who died on the way to the hospital. A knife with a 10-inch blade was recovered at the scene, and a holster that is believed to have held the weapon was found on Sanders' body.
According to police, Birchfield came home early Saturday morning, heard a disturbance in his basement and began looking for his granddaughter: "He thought he heard [Sloan-Hawkins], but he didn’t know for sure what she was saying,” Detective Sgt. Jim Vaughn explains. “He went down to investigate and … that is when he was confronted by Mr. Sanders.”
Although authorities are still investigating what led Sanders to stab Sloan-Hawkins, Sloan-Hawkins' mother, Velvet Sloan, says that her daughter and Sanders, who had been friends for a few years, began dating earlier in 2016, but they broke up, according to Sloan, after Sanders stole money from Sloan-Hawkins and broke her phone. Sloan-Hawkins had been living with her grandparents to help Shepard, who had Parkinson’s disease; after Shepard died in late September, she stayed to help Birchfield.
Birchfield was released from the hospital on Monday (Dec. 19), following surgery. In a statement, he thanked Hendersonville's first responders "for their quick response and professionalism during this tragic time," as well as those who have sent their thoughts and prayers to him.
"For those who have asked," he adds, "I am okay, and my wounds are slowly healing.”
Shepard was 82 when she died in September. She and Birchfield — a musician himself, who worked with the Osborne Brothers and Roy Orbison — had been married since 1968. Birchfield’s neighbors have set up a GoFundMe to help him during this time.
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