The first witness called was Henderson’s first wife. The tiny woman described their short marriage as filled with physical and verbal abuse. When her husband left an obvious mark on her — for instance, a busted lip — he would tell people, “Omigosh, she’s crazy, she just hits herself!”
Tamara’s daughter came in to testify. The skinny seven-year-old girl clutched a teddy bear in the witness box. She told the jury that she’d heard her parents fighting that morning. “I saw them arguing about, that he has another, that he cheated on her.”
“And then what happened?” asked prosecutor Watanabe.
“He shot her,” said the serious little girl, holding tight her bear.
The second day of the trial, the defendant showed up with a new look: Henderson had shaved his head. Maybe he was preparing for his turn in the witness box. He kept the wire-rimmed glasses and wore a crisp white dress shirt.
Public defender Jack Campbell introduced his client by telling the jury: “He is the one witness who actually saw what happened.”
Henderson Tells the Jury
Henderson spoke of his first wife: “We didn’t have a perfect marriage.” He said she was a woman who would “overexaggerate.”
Henderson admitted that he’d gotten the murder weapon maybe two months before the shooting. He declined to say from whom he got it: “I’m not at liberty to say.” The handgun was reported stolen in San Diego County.
Henderson said, “We was expected to be at New Hope at 11 o’clock.” They were getting ready to go to church when the argument began. Henderson said that his wife had called him “slick” and accused him of trying to get away with things with other women. The argument escalated. Henderson threatened suicide. It was his wife, he said, who went and got the handgun. She threw it onto the bed and dared him to do it.
Henderson told the jury, “She didn’t believe me, that I would actually do it.”
He picked up the gun. “I was trying to intimidate her, to get her attention, by threatening suicide.” He said his wife put her hand on his forearm. “She was trying to get possession of the gun at that time.
“The shooting was an accident,” he said. “When she pulled my hand, it went off.”
According to medical testimony, a bullet passed through Tamara’s lung and heart and liver and spleen and lodged in her spine.
Henderson said, “I told her it wasn’t meant for that to happen.”
A doctor testified that the bullet in Tamara’s spine would have immediately paralyzed her lower body and prevented her from walking. Henderson claimed his wife took a couple steps toward him after she was shot, then fell into his arms. He said he laid her on the floor; later, he moved her onto the bed.
Henderson was asked why he didn’t mention the gunshot wound when he phoned 911.
“I didn’t want an overreaction to happen,” he explained.
Tamara died of internal bleeding. The prosecutor suggested that Tamara slowly bled to death between the first 911 call at 10:13 — which was a hang-up — and the second, which didn’t take place until 11:04. During the second 911 call, Henderson described his wife as having hurt herself. Between calls, he was searching for his car keys and staging the death scene and arranging his getaway.
Henderson denied that he’d tried to stage a suicide scene. He said he’d hoped his wife would explain that it was an accident because “I was trying to avoid the police.” He did admit that he’d fled. “Yes, I eluded the police.”
The prosecutor asked Henderson why he didn’t tell police in St. Louis that the shooting was an accident.
“Not when you first get arrested, it doesn’t make sense,” Henderson said.
Public defender Campbell told the jury: “He did not intend to murder his wife. It was an accidental homicide.” Campbell pointed out that prosecution’s evidence was circumstantial, but that Henderson’s eyewitness testimony was direct evidence. Henderson was not guilty of first-degree murder; the jury should instead find that it was involuntary manslaughter.
The jury deliberated a day before declaring Henderson, now 29, guilty of first-degree murder.
“I’m thankful that the jury didn’t buy into his lies,” said prosecutor Keith Watanabe.
Henderson was sentenced to 75 years to life, plus five years for the previous strike. ■