BRADENTON -- After he killed his family on Thanksgiving Day 2005, Richard Henderson Jr. slept in his parents' bed, awoke in the morning and wrote a note that contained one foreboding sentence:"I will be punished."Indeed, he will.
A jury will decide this morning whether to recommend that his punishment be life in prison or execution. On Thursday, the jurors convicted Henderson of killing his parents, grandmother and brother.Prosecutors hope jurors choose the death penalty, putting Henderson, 22, alongside three other Manatee County inmates facing lethal injection.The panel will meet at 8:45 a.m. to make a recommendation to Circuit Judge Diana Moreland.
Unlike guilty verdicts, which must be unanimous, sentencing recommendations are by majority vote. Judges rarely step outside the recommended sentence.No family members were inside the courtroom when the verdict was announced and they could not be reached at home Thursday evening.Afterward, prosecutors and defense attorneys declined to comment. Jurors were issued a gag order until Henderson is sentenced.
As he did during most of the trial, Henderson remained unemotional when the verdict was read. But when he trudged out of the courthouse next to armed deputies, Henderson became defiant.
A reporter asked if he was afraid of the death penalty."Hell, no," Henderson said.Jurors required more than 15 hours of deliberations, which began Wednesday, to reach a verdict: three first-degree murder convictions for the slayings of Henderson's parents and grandmother and one charge of second-degree murder for the death of his 11-year-old brother.Jurors concluded that Henderson did not plan the killing of his brother, Jacob, who was struck in the back of the head with a metal pipe.
Henderson apologized as he leveled the pipe against Jacob's head, then tossed the boy out a window and returned hours later to hide the body in a laundry room.
After killing Jacob, prosecutors said, Henderson went from room to room in his family's mobile home in Myakka City, striking his other relatives from behind with the same pipe.
Henderson's trial revealed conflicting portraits of a troubled young man.
Prosecutors called him a stone-cold killer who hid out with friends, tried to buy enough Xanax to overdose and bought time for an escape by lying to a worried aunt.
On the surface, defense lawyers argued, Henderson may have seemed normal. Friends say he had a solid relationship with his parents and, while they argued, the family was no different than most.But the student who was known as a class clown who always seemed to be in trouble had a very dark side as well, the lawyers said.
During the trial, Assistant Public Defender Carolyn Schlemmer ticked through a list of psychiatric issues: self-mutilation, suicide attempts, heavy drug use, wild emotional swings that one moment saw him overjoyed while the next he was sullen and morose.But court documents bear a different record: violence toward his ex-wife, a low-wage job building modular homes, late child support payments, a looming divorce.
In September 2004, he came home from a night of partying and slugged his wife, Brittany Wilde, in the face, according to a domestic violence injunction.Later that year, he chased her from the house with a kitchen knife and turned it on himself when she would not come back, records show.
"If you say anything, things won't turn out good," he reportedly said to Wilde. Wilde eventually left him, and told a judge that Henderson could not pay child support for their daughter, Taylor, now 6.
The murder case, never framed as a whodunit, ultimately came down to a single question for jurors: Was Henderson insane?
On Thursday afternoon, their answer was no.
Last modified: August 17. 2007 4:20AM