By NATALIE NEYSA ALUND
BRADENTON - Prosecutors this afternoon verbally led jurors to the doorstep of the Richard Henderson Sr. mobile home where members of the family were beaten to death Thanksgiving Day, 2005.
"My wife did come back and started bawling. I asked her what's wrong. She just cried," Loyal Stringer Jr. testified in answer to a question from prosecutor Art Brown.
Stringer was called to the witness stand early in the state's case against his grandson, Richard Henderson Jr., on four first-degree murder charges.
Stringer's wife, Sandy Stringer, could testify later today to what she saw in the mobile home.
Earlier today, a crime-scene investigator read to the jury a note that Richard Henderson Jr. left in a bathroom sink, saying he had killed the four and should die for it.
Also at trial, prosecutor Art Brown produced a thick, brown, steel pipe that investigators say Henderson used to crush the skulls of his mother and father, 11-year-old brother, and 82-year-old grandmother on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2005.
Previously, defense lawyer Franklin Roberts told the jury in an opening statement that Richard Henderson Jr., 22, suffered from severe mental illness and was insane at the time of the killings.
Stringer Jr., was the first family member to take the witness stand in the two-day-old trial.
Stringer recounted how he saw the entire Henderson family on the day they died. The family had gathered for Thanksgiving dinner at Stringer's son's house, Jeff Stringer, in Wauchula.
Prosecutor Brown asked Stringer if his grandson appeared "out of touch with reality."
Stringer replied, "Not really."
The grandfather said Richard Henderson Jr. seemed like he was in a hurry, "Acting like he really didn't wanna come - like kids do."
Over the next few days, Stringer said, his wife tried to call the Henderson house a few times but no one answered.
"My wife was getting a little nervous because she talked to Jeaneane Henderson every night," Stringer testified.
Jeaneane Henderson was the defendant's mother and one of four people killed.
Stringer said he and his wife drove to the Henderson house the Sunday after Thanksgiving. As they turned into the driveway, he said, they noticed the family van was gone.
As they decided to leave, they saw Richard Henderson Jr. driving the van toward them.
"I said, 'What are you doing with the van?' " Stringer said.
Stringer said Henderson responded, "I'm taking my girlfriend home."
The girlfriend, Stringer testified, appeared to have little color in her face.
"You could tell she was scared," Stringer said.
Henderson told his grandparents not to go to the house because his parents were fighting "real bad," Stringer testified.
He said his grandson's demeanor was normal.
Richard Henderson Jr. then drove off, Stringer said.
First to reach the house were Stringer's wife and brother. Inside the mobile home, walls and furnishing were spattered with the blood of the four victims. The four were dead in four different rooms.
"My wife did come back and started bawling. I asked her what's wrong. She just cried," Stringer said.
With that , the trial took an afternoon break.
Earlier, chief crime scene investigator Rich Talbot also told the jury he observed a steel pipe in a bedroom of the mobile home.
During Talbot's testimony, state's attorney Brown pulled a thick, brown, metal pipe from a paper bag and handed a photocopy of Henderson's note to jurors.
Talbot then read the entire note, at one point quoting Henderson: "I know I did it but I don't know why. I did not kill them out of hate or selfishness ... I'm so sorry mom, dad, grandma, bro. I deserve to die one billion times for each one of you. I felt useless."
The note was signed "Richard," Talbot said.
Testimony began Monday afternoon with the state beginning to make its case for guilt. If successful, prosecutors have said they will ask the jury to recommend the death penalty.
The state's second witness, Talbot, took the stand about 11:45 a.m. and said he observed a steel pipe in a bedroom of the home. He also said in the master bathroom he found a note in the sink that was close to Jeaneane Henderson's body.
Talbot is the Crime Scene Unit manager of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.
The photos were held up by Brown and then tacked to a board so jurors could continue to look at them.
The two brothers, Richard Henderson Jr., then 19, and Jacob Henderson, 11, were playing a video game when the killing spree began, investigator Smith testified.
He said the name of the video game being played was Nintendo's Super Smash Brothers.
At some point while playing the video, Richard Henderson Jr. took the steel pipe and viciously hit his younger brother over the head, the prosecution claims. Smith testified blood-splatter evidence backs up that theory. Richard Henderson Jr. then shoved his dying brother out a window of the bedroom.
Blood splatter in Jacob's bedroom and throughout the Henderson's mobile home indicated the use of force and is consistent with blood flying from blows to body parts from a blunt object, said Smith.
Blood was found on an air conditioning unit, a chair and boxes throughout the house, and near the bodies.
All the bodies, Smith said, were found in separate rooms and covered with some sort of bedding materials from the torso up. Grandmother June Henderson was found face up in her bed. Jacob Henderson was on the floor in the laundry room. Mother Jeaneane Henderson was seated in a chair near the shower stall in the master bedroom. And, father Richard Henderson Sr. was in a chair in a hallway.
The prosecution has said Henderson, after pushing his brother out a window, later dragged him around the house and into the laundry room.