In January 2012, prospective jurors got a good look at Henderson’s “wild man” hair.
  • In January 2012, prospective jurors got a good look at Henderson’s “wild man” hair.
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“The reason why Dontaye has not cut his hair is because he is trying to portray a persona of a wild man to the guys in jail.”

Dontaye Henderson’s mother wrote these words in 2003, while her son was in a San Diego jail waiting to be sentenced for rape.

Henderson had been born in Tuskegee, Alabama, 21 years earlier. Sometime in 2003, he followed his first wife from their home in Georgia to California — the desperate woman was trying to escape him. She hid at her sister’s place in Oceanside. But Henderson tricked his young bride into coming to a hotel where he was waiting. He raped her at knifepoint.

Henderson was arrested and charged with spousal rape and eventually pleaded guilty to that charge. But his public defender might have been considering an insanity plea, because he arranged for Henderson to meet with a clinical psychologist.

Dr. Gregg A. Michel sent a report of the meeting to Henderson’s attorney on June 27, 2003. A copy of the report is in court files.

Dr. Michel wrote: “During the first 10 minutes of the interview he was mute, placed his face near a wall and merely stared straight ahead. He then began pacing-like behavior in the small confines of the interview room.…He then rocked back and forth. When he finally began to speak, he claimed he did not know his age and stated he was actually a woman with a different name. He exhibited quite extreme and blatant attempts at malingering…”

Mental health professionals use the word “malingering” when they mean “faking crazy.” Although Henderson went on to describe “glowing spirits” and other creatures in the room, Dr. Michel never accepted these as actual symptoms.

Henderson told the psychologist that when he was 16 years old and living with his mother in Kentucky, he’d been placed in an “adolescent facility.” He said it was because he’d threatened to kill himself.

Henderson whined that he had been moved out of the psych ward in San Diego’s downtown jail — the Psychiatric Security Units — and was no longer receiving the drugs he preferred.

After meeting with Henderson, Dr. Michel concluded: “He would not be an appropriate candidate for treatment in the community…but [instead] has exhibited a pattern of escalating domestic violence, including having a weapon in his possession that indicates he would be a threat or danger if free in the community.”

Henderson pled guilty to raping his first wife, although he claimed he’d been holding the knife to his own throat and threatening suicide when he made his sexual demands.

Henderson’s mother hoped to influence the sentencing judge with her letter. She may have been told about Dr. Michel’s findings, writing: “Another point is that if Dontaye did not do well on his evaluations with the Psychiatrist, it is because he is probably trying to come across as crazy so that the Judge will not sentence him to prison, but instead sentence him to a mental institution.” Perhaps she hoped her son would be sentenced to community service. “Dontaye is so afraid of going to a prison he might fake being a mental case, when the fact of the matter is that he is very sane and more than capable of functioning normally in society.”

Henderson and his defense attorney tried one more time with a different psychologist. Another psych evaluation was arranged. In August of 2003, psychologist Dr. Lynette Rivers sent in a report in which she found that “Mr. Henderson has dependent, obsessive-compulsive, depressive, and narcissistic personality features.” There was more good news. “According to two risk assessment instruments, Mr. Henderson is at low risk of future violence towards others.”

Nonetheless, Dr. Rivers stated: “It is imperative that Mr. Henderson remain in treatment with a psychiatrist…”

The Problem with Predicting Violence

Less than eight years later, Henderson was arrested for killing his second wife.

For the 2003 attack on his first wife, the judge sent Henderson to a California prison for three years. He then served additional prison time for various parole violations. Henderson was out on parole again in 2008, when he met tall, slender Tamara. He was 26; she was 23 years old.

A parole officer met with Tamara to make sure she was aware of certain things about Henderson. He was a registered sex offender. As a condition of his parole, he wore a GPS monitoring bracelet on his left ankle at all times.

Henderson and Tamara had a whirlwind romance. They dated for four months, then married in January 2009. They rented an apartment in Oceanside.

In the wedding portrait, they make a handsome couple. Henderson is genteel and thoughtful as he extends a hand to a little flower girl — Tamara’s four-year-old daughter from a previous relationship — helping her to hold up a bouquet of roses.

Nine months later, Tamara gave her husband a son.

The hospital picture shows a happy Tamara, her newborn baby held in her arms. Father Dontaye is at her side, smiling down on his son. That was in September 2009.

First Homicide of the Year

On January 1, 2011, the first homicide of the year occurred in San Diego County. Henderson dialed 911 that morning. His first words to the emergency dispatcher were: “My wife is getting hurt.” He said, “She got hurt, um, she hurt herself,” and “She just, uh, hurt herself real bad.” Henderson claimed his wife had asthma. “She can’t breathe too good.” He said, “She hit her head and she fell.”

Henderson requested an ambulance for his dying wife. He failed to mention the gunshot wound to her chest.

Henderson left the apartment before paramedics arrived. He walked to a nearby hotel, cut the GPS monitoring bracelet off his leg, and hid it in a trash can. Then he phoned his parole officer. He said he was holed up in the hotel with a gun and suggested that he was suicidal. This delayed law enforcement for some time, while they surrounded the hotel and evacuated the guests.

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