Sunday, August 19, 2007

Trio of murder trials ending


MANATEE --With the completion of two of three capital murder trials scheduled for this year, Manatee County residents can now prepare themselves for the third case of a young man accused of beating members of his own family to death.

Using a baseball bat, a metal pipe, a knife and their own hands, Blaine Ross, Richard E. Henderson Jr. and Clifford Davis stunned the community in a period just short of two years, when they took a total of eight lives.

All three remain in the Manatee County jail: Ross awaiting sentencing; Henderson awaiting transfer to state prison; Davis awaiting trial.

Richard E. Henderson Jr. was 20 when he killed his family members, one by one as they played video games, read a book, played solitaire on the computer and watched TV, hours after they returned from a family Thanksgiving dinner in Wauchula. On Nov. 28, 2005, four days later, Henderson's remaining grandmother, Sandy Stringer, discovered the bodies of Jeaneane, June, Richard Sr. and Jacob, each of them covered by sheets.

His defense team argued that he was insane, but the jury didn't agree.

Former Sheriff Charlie Wells, who spent the better part of that day at the Henderson home, says it was a scene he will never forget. "I talked to the family and they were in shock," he said. "It's one of those dreadful situations where a family's dead, and another one of their family is charged with homicide."

Wells easily admits that the quadruple murder was one of the most "unusual crimes" he'd seen in 22 years as sheriff. "It sticks with me," he said.

Although he preferred Henderson get the death penalty, he said life in prison won't be pleasant.
"Prison life is extra tough on young boys," he said. "In this case, I'd say that life in prison will most likely be a worse sentence than the death penalty."

Sandy Stringer, Henderson's maternal grandmother, spoke with her grandson the night of his sentencing. "He's doing pretty good," she said. "He was in the medical unit so he could only talk for a minute. But, he wasn't too upset at the outcome."Stringer, who's visited Henderson in jail, and plans to continue, said the trial and sentencing, "went good."
"It went as we hoped it to go," she said.

Ross: Two Lives

Although the Ross and Henderson family murders were nearly two years apart, their convictions came within four months of one another.

Ross was 21 years old when he made a decision that would forever take his freedom away. Using a baseball bat, he killed his mother and father - Richard and Kathleen Ross - as they slept in bed.

Ross' attorneys, Adam Tebrugge, John Scotese and Carolyn Schlemmer requested a new trial after he was convicted stating the jury was prejudiced by the media.

After the slayings, Ross took his mother's bank card and staged a clumsy burglary at the family's home in the Lionshead neighborhood. He placed ropes around his parents' necks and opened drawers, then placed clothing neatly on the floor.
In April, it took jurors 10 hour to decide his guilt, and two hours to recommend the death penalty.

If the judge accepts the recommendation, Ross would be the fourth-youngest of 365 inmates on Florida's death row.

Davis: Two lives

Attorneys are preparing an insanity defense for the 20-year-old who detectives say killed his mother and grandfather on Dec. 5, 2005, in the Wares Creek home Davis and his mother shared.

Detectives say he strangled his mother, Stephanie Ann Davis, then had sex with her corpse. Later, detectives say, he attempted to strangle his grandfather, Joel C. Hill, but was unsuccessful due to a pacemaker. Next, he stabbed him in the eye and chest, then slit his throat.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Davis, but if he is found not guilty by reason of insanity, a judge can order he be put in a mental facility for as long as deemed necessary.
The case is slated for trial in November.

Rebecca Blue, Herald criminal justice reporter, can be reached at 708-7919.

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