The Case of Hayden Jennings Berkebile

Tawana K Watson

On September 29, 2019, Hayden Jennings Berkebile age 29 from Indiana, was communicating with Grace Anne Sparks age 19 from Tennessee, via video chat. Berkebile is stated to have coerced Sparks into loading one bullet into a .357 revolver, then putting the gun up to her head, and then pulling the trigger which ultimately caused Sparks her life.

Hayden Jennings Berkebile was convicted of criminally negligent homicide. According to the State of Tennessee, the charge of criminally negligent homicide applies because Berkebile’s conduct led to the death of Sparks, according to the State of Tennessee, he knew of substantial and unjustifiable risk which he ignored. This offense is a Class E felony with a sentence of 1 to 6 years in prison.

Berkebile’s defense argued that both parties (Berkebile and Sparks) had severe mental issues and that both willingly participated in the suicide role-play game (Russian Roulette) that unfortunately ended in tragedy.

The evidence however showed the opposite according to the prosecution, who read 1300 messages out loud to the jury which established the amount of control Berkebile had over Sparks. In fact, according to the records Berkebile and Sparks started communicating on a chat website when Sparks was 11 or 13 years old, Berkebile was 7 years older than Sparks, and their common interest was suicidal ideations. Later the relationship between Berkebile and Sparks turned sexual, where Berkebile would play the dominant partner directing Sparks to do kinky sexual acts via video chat. According to the prosecution, Berkebile developed sexual control over Sparks, and therefore his control led Sparks to take her own life.

The State of Tennessee Department of Health defines suicide as, “when a person intentionally ends their own life.” Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among Americans; for the State of Tennessee residents 10 to 24 years of age, it is the 3rd leading cause of death. The judge on Friday, July 15, 2022, sentenced Berkebile to two years in prison.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide please don’t hesitate but call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255

Grace Anne Sparks, 19Photo byCandis Sparks

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a self-proclaimed journalist writing about past and present true crime, mental health, and things going on in Cleveland.

Cleveland, OH

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