Penalty phase will resume next week for Christopher Henderson’s murder trial

Published: Jul. 2, 2021 at 7:42 AM CDT
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UPDATE: Deliberations will resume on Tuesday, July 6 in the penalty phase in a life or death case in Madison County.

Christopher Henderson killed his full-term pregnant wife and three of her family members, including 2 young children in 2015.

On Thursday, a jury convicted Henderson on all 15 counts of capital murder.

Jurors began deliberating today to recommend whether Henderson will get life in prison without parole, or the death penalty. They were deliberating for nearly two hours after what was sort of like a mini-trial in this penalty phase.

At least 10 of the 12 jurors have to recommend death for Henderson or seven for life without parole. But, Judge Comer will ultimately have that final say.

UPDATE as of 12:00 p.m. - Emotions were high during Friday’s court proceedings. The penalty phase began with opening statements from both the prosecution and the defense.

Prosecutors called Kelly Sokolowski to the stand. She’s the mother of Eli, one of the victims in this case. She testifies that she was the woman seen on body camera footage when the house was engulfed in flames. She recounts holding onto hope that her baby wasn’t inside.

“That was someone who just realized her entire world will never be the same,” Sokolowski said.

She also talked about Kristen and Clayton.

“You don’t realize what you’ve got until it’s gone,” she said, talking about her sister Kristen.

Henderson’s 18-year-old daughter also took the stand for the defense. She talked about her father and recounted fond memories she shared with him. Chris’s mother also took the stand as well as his sisters.

The defense called up a mitigation expert and sentencing advocate named Katherine “Sunny” Lippert. She talked about Henderson’s past and his childhood.

She also said it appears Henderson has Parkinson’s.

“What I saw in his jail records was primarily to do with his ongoing treatment, early stages of Parkinson’s disease,” Lippert said.

She also testified that Henderson and his family have a history of depression. The district attorney’s office chief trial attorney crossed-examined her about this.

“He denied any family history of mental illness,” Gann said.

“I think he would say he doesn’t have a mental illness. He doesn’t consider depression a mental illness,” said Lippert.

A retired corrections officer also testified, and although he was hard to hear over zoom, he testified that it’s easier to live on death row than where someone would go if they were facing life in prison without parole.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - The penalty phase in the Christopher Henderson trial begins Friday morning. After multiple days of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of guilty Thursday afternoon.

Henderson is now convicted of killing his pregnant wife Kristen and her family, and he allegedly worked with his other wife Rhonda Carlson on this.

There were 15 charges in total, and the jury found Henderson guilty on all of them. According to Chief Trial Attorney Tim Gann, this verdict is something Kristen’s family has waited on for years. Prosecutors said this case has graphic details unlike anything they’d ever seen before, and it’s one they warned jurors would be hard to sit through.

“I think I speak for the family and our office that we are extremely satisfied with the results,” Gann said in response to the verdict.

“It wasn’t totally unexpected, the facts of this case were tough. I’ve known that for the last six years, but in my profession, we did the best we could so you have to find some peace in that, which I have,” said Bruce Gardner, Henderson’s defense attorney.

During the penalty phase, the question of life without parole or death comes into play.

Prosecutors for this case have said there is a deal with the alleged co-conspirator Carlson. For Carlson’s truthful testimony the death penalty will be off the table for her, and instead, she will do life without parole, according to a prosecuting attorney.

Gardner said he believes this is unfair.

“How do you decide who lives and dies? That’s what I call the perverse calculus. I don’t know what factors are important to them, but both of these people are equally liable for this. They had the same motivation for this,” said Gardner.

“We still have some work to do,” Gann said. “I feel like they feel (the family) like justice is being served right now they are extremely happy. It’s a good day for all of us.”

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