Posted on Saturday, August 18, 2007
By NATALIE NEYSA ALUND
By NATALIE NEYSA ALUND
BRADENTON --When a jury recommended Richard Henderson Jr. be sentenced to life in prison Friday, the convicted murderer glanced at family members and smirked.
His lead defense attorney, Carolyn Schlemmer, wiped tears from her eyes as another attorney reached over Henderson, huddled between them, grabbed her hand and smiled.
The same five-man, seven-woman jury that convicted Henderson on Thursday of killing his parents, grandmother and brother Thanksgiving Day, 2005, needed just nine minutes to make its decision.
Circuit Judge Diana Moreland, who had the final say, then sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Henderson's smirk seemed to be directed at his aunt, Joyce Henderson, who after the sentencing said he has made written threats against her family in recent months.
As deputies escorted him from the courthouse, Henderson - shackled - said he was not nervous before the jury made its recommendation.
When asked whether he would have preferred to receive the death penalty, he was equally nonplussed.
"Ah," he replied nonchalantly as he shrugged his right shoulder. "Whatever goes."
Life's going to be 'hell for him'
Henderson's defense team had contended their client was temporarily insane when he swung the steel pipe that killed his father, Richard Henderson Sr., 48; his mother, Jeaneane Henderson, 42; his grandmother, June Henderson, 82, and 11-year-old brother Jacob.
"It's not just the Hendersons who knew he wasn't insane, 12 totally unbiased people agreed that he wasn't insane," said Joyce Henderson, who would have preferred her nephew get the death penalty.
"Life in there's going to be total hell for him. Perfect," she said. "The Henderson family has been through total hell and now it's his turn."
In a July 26, 2007, letter, Henderson wrote to his aunt: "You say God will forgive me, well I don't want it. In fact I would sell my soul to reap vengenance (sic) on all you."
On several instances in court, Henderson attempted to make eye contact with his aunt. Realizing it, she said, she looked away.
Hank Henderson, Richard Sr.'s brother, said he expects the life his family has endured for the past 20 months will "get easier."
"He's always been a bad seed," he said. "That may be cold and cruel, but I have three sons who'd like to take a metal pipe to him."
Prosecutor Art Brown, who argued for Henderson's execution, said he respected the jury's life recommendation, but thought it was an appropriate case for the death penalty.
Schlemmer expressed relief with the jury's recommendation.
"The jury saw the mental illness," she said.
Juror Heather Staples, 31, said she'd never wish the responsibility of having to make a decision about this type of case on anyone.
"I had night sweats, weight loss," Staples said.
Juror Disa McClintock, 27, said the trial gave her bad dreams.
Juror Kristina Lucas, 30, a hairstylist, joked that she probably doesn't have any clients left after spending two weeks at the courthouse.
Staples, McClintock and Lucas said during the first day of deliberation in the trial, nine jurors determined Henderson was sane and three thought he was insane.
They reached a unanimous verdict the following day.
'It broke my heart'
During the penalty phase, some of Henderson Jr.'s family testified about how they have been affected by the murders.
Joyce Henderson said her family would frequently travel from Missouri to visit the Hendersons in Myakka City.
"I have no little sister anymore," she said, breaking into tears on the stand.
As Joyce testified, a handful of other relatives sitting in the courtroom gallery could be seen weeping. Some jurors were also crying.
Joyce's family was planning a Christmas 2005 vacation in Florida when her nephew committed the murders. Jeaneane had made reservations for them at a hotel near Myakka City.
"It broke my heart to have to stay at the same hotel while we were making arrangements for their burial," Joyce said.
Hank Henderson also took the stand. He sobbed as he explained his mother was 82 when she was murdered by her grandson.
Two blows to kill
Prosecutors argued Henderson's sanity and guilt were proven by the confessions he gave investigators and the remorse he showed for the deaths.
Age 20 during the killings, Henderson told authorities he felt trapped living at home with his parents and wanted to get away.
After returning to their Myakka City mobile home from sharing Thanksgiving dinner with relatives in Hardee County, Henderson grabbed a steel pipe from his father's shed, made sure the victims were alone in separate rooms and fatally bludgeoned them in the house they shared.
A forensic reconstruction of the killings showed Henderson made sure his victims were alone as he beat them to death, one by one.
The victims were repeatedly struck in the head with a heavy pipe. At least two blows to each were enough to kill.
The killing spree began in Jacob's room. While playing an Xbox video game with his brother, Henderson Jr. took a metal pipe, struck him on the head and pushed the boy out a window. He then entered his grandmother's room with the pipe wrapped in a towel and asked her to bend down and retrieve an item from a dresser. While she was bent over, he struck and killed her, then shut the door.
Next, he called his father out of a bedroom into the living room to play an Xbox game. As his dad played, Henderson Jr. told him he was going to get a cigarette. Instead, he grabbed the pipe, attacked his father and killed him.
The final attack occurred as his mother sat in front of a computer in the master bedroom playing online poker. After he killed her, he went outside to where his brother lay, finished killing him, then dragged the body back in the house.
Henderson then tried to cover up the murders by covering the bodies with various bedding materials, including comforters and blankets, putting sheets on the doors and windows and dragging the chair his father sat in out of the living room so it was out of sight.
When Sandy Stringer called asking for Jeaneane Henderson the night of the killings, Henderson told her she couldn't come to the phone because she was in the shower.
Henderson, investigators said, slept in his parents' bed that night, and showered in the same room as his mother's bloody body. The next day, he pawned family electronics. He stayed in an Ellenton motel with two female friends the next two nights. A Manatee County Sheriff's Office deputy arrested him Nov. 27, 2005, after he found him walking on U.S. 301 in Ellenton.
The bodies were found by Sandy Stringer on Nov. 27, 2005, three days after the slayings.