ST. LOUIS — A former St. Louis police officer will serve seven years in prison for the January 2019 Russian-Roulette-style killing of fellow police officer Katlyn Alix.
Nathaniel Hendren, 30, pleaded guilty Friday in a packed courtroom to one count of involuntary manslaughter and one count of armed criminal action for the shooting death of Alix, 24.
He was sentenced to seven years for involuntary manslaughter and three years for armed criminal action, but will serve the sentences concurrently.
In April 2019, Hendren pleaded not guilty to the charges, but recently reached a plea deal with Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s office.
The range of punishment for involuntary manslaughter in the first degree is three to 10 years. The range for armed criminal action is three years to life. The plea caps Hendren's possible exposure at seven years. He will also be eligible for early release.
As part of the deal, Hendren and prosecutors agreed that the following facts could be proven at trial:
Alix and Hendren were both “dry-firing” their own guns at Hendren’s apartment in the 700 block of Dover Place just before 1 a.m. Jan. 24, 2019. Hendren was on duty at the time; Alix was not.
Hendren, having previously emptied his revolver of cartridges, put one cartridge back in the revolver and began spinning the cylinder multiple times, each time checking to see where the cartridge landed.
After confirming the cartridge was not in the “live position,” Hendren pointed the revolver down the hallway and pulled the trigger. It did not fire.
Alix then took the revolver from Hendren, pointed it at him and pulled the trigger. Again, it did not fire.
Hendren then took the revolver, and believing that the remaining cartridge was not in the active cylinder position, pointed the gun at Alix and pulled the trigger.
The third time, it fired, striking Alix in the chest.
In a rare move, Judge Thomas Clark called Alix’s husband, Tony Meyers, and her mother, Aimee Wahlers, to his bench at the beginning of Hendren’s appearance, telling them that he could not alter the sentence that prosecutors and Hendren’s attorneys had agreed upon. Judges can reject plea agreements, but Clark said he accepted the agreement believing Alix’s family did not want to endure a trial.
“A lot of people will not like the length of the sentence, but he had accepted responsibility for what he has done and spared the victim’s family from the experience of a public trial,” Clark said. “It’s such a tragic, inexplicable act that most likely will never be understood and hopefully never replicated.”
Hendren told the courtroom of about 60 people, including his family, several police officers and Alix’s sister and brother, that he wanted to spare Alix’s family from a trial.
And he apologized.
"There isn't enough time today to tell you what's in my heart,” he said. “I don't intend to try and explain away anyone else's hurt or make this day any more about me than it already is.
“I simply wish to express my sincere remorse to this court and to the family of Katlyn Alix. She was a wonderful woman. Full of tenacity, self-determination, and a willingness to put her country and this community above herself. She was full of love and it radiated from her every day and it has been reflected in her family's grief and sorrow. I'm sure it has been reflected in their greatest joys as well.
"I have read the letters written to me by her family and friends and I see what great happiness she brought to the lives of others. I also see what emptiness has been left behind and I know this is a direct result of my actions. Not a day has passed since this tragic event that I have not felt guilt, remorse, and condemnation. My pain from what I have done will never leave me for the rest of my life, but I understand and recognize that the pain I feel is nothing compared to that of the family of Katlyn Alix. I offer to you my deepest and sincere apology and hope that in some small way the brokenness I've caused can begin to heal."
Hendren's attorney, Talmage Newton, stood next to him and put his hand on his client’s back as Hendren paused several times to compose himself.
“He was in love with her, and cared deeply for her,” Newton said, following the hearing. “And he thought it was best to save her family from having to repeat the tragic events of that night. He wanted them to be left with the best memories. This is a very tragic case. There are families on both sides who are forever changed. One life has been lost and another has been significantly altered.”
Alix married Meyer in October 2018. He attended Friday's hearing, but did not speak. Assistant Circuit Attorney Rachel Smith read his statement to the judge.
"We never got to go on our honeymoon. I never got to meet our children. Her life was mercilessly snuffed out before it began," Smith read.
Her husband's statement talked about how much she loved her dogs, and how they now wait at the door, "for an owner who will never return."
"I cannot begin to describe the hell I've been living every day," Smith read.
In his statement, Meyers said he wants to remember the good memories they shared, "Not the night I held her body until it turned cold on a hospital bed."
Alix's former partner, officer C. Page Hereford, also read a statement, pausing to wipe away tears. He's now with the Maryland Heights Police Department.
"I'm not as good of a policeman without her by my side," he said.
Hereford said he, like Hendren, is a former Marine, and as such, had the most "elite" training when it comes to firearms.
"He failed at that spectacularly," Hereford said, adding that on the night of Alix's death, she had called Hereford and his wife asking if she could stop by their house for a visit.
"But we told her we were already in bed; we turned her away," he said.
Alix’s mother, Aimee Wahlers, also gave an emotional statement, pausing to look at Hendren several times and showing him pictures of Alix at her wedding and with her family.
A source told 5 On Your Side that Hendren met privately with Alix’s mother following the hearing in a separate courtroom. They were seated across from each other at a table as attorneys, sheriff’s deputies and social workers stood nearby. They spoke quietly and no one could hear much of the conversation above the chirps of the sheriff’s police radios, according to the source.
She said “no comment,” when asked what she thought of Hendren’s apology.
When asked what she thought of the seven-year sentence, she said: “I’m not happy, but it’s OK. It’s just a sad day. Nobody wins.”
Gardner released a statement following the court appearance, but refused to answer questions.
"The events of Jan. 24, 2019 took the life of Kaitlyn Alix, a vibrant 24-year-old promising law enforcement officer who honorably served the people of the City of St. Louis. The reckless behavior that took place that early morning has left an unfillable void for her grieving husband, her parents, and a host of loving family and friends. Mr. Hendren's plea admits that his actions were the cause of officer Alix's death. Although there is nothing that the law can do to restore the life of officer Alix, it can make sure that the person responsible for her senseless death is held accountable for his careless behavior."
In October 2019, Katlyn Alix’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Hendren, his partner that night, officer Patrick Riordan, who was also in the apartment, the police sergeant on duty, and the City of St. Louis.
Hendren and his partner were supposed to be in a different police district patrolling the community at the time.
Instead, they were all inside Hendren's apartment when the shooting happened.
According to the civil lawsuit, Hendren had a "complicated psychiatric history, including but not limited to anxiety and depression, PTSD, suicidal ideations and gestures" before being hired by the police department.
He also "had a history of acting recklessly with firearms, forcing previous girlfriends to play 'Russian roulette' and engage in other sexual activity that involved firearms" the lawsuit alleged.
The lawsuit said the city acted negligently because the city should have known about Hendren's history before hiring him. The lawsuit said they do not know if the city was aware of his psychiatric and disciplinary history because the city has refused to release full disciplinary or employment files "claiming that such records of an officer accused of criminal conduct are closed records under Missouri's sunshine laws."
Hendren was walked out of the courtroom Friday in handcuffs.
Moments later, a class of police recruits ran past the courthouse during their traditional Arch Run, which is a six-mile run from police headquarters to The Arch to mark the end of their physical training program and final assessment.
About two years before, Alix and Hendren were among them.
Alix finished hers in January 2017.
Hendren, 10 months later.