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The Henderson TrialPosted Sunday, September 21, 2008, at 12:35 PM
For the next several days, I will be covering the trial of Lyndale D. Henderson, with the exception of the jury selection process in Clay County tomorrow.
As the trial moves forward, I hope to be able to capsule each day's events for those who are interested. If you have questions, I will try to get answers, although I can't promise every question is one that can be answered immediately, and I'm sure there will be questions that have no answers. I'll do my best.
As I've talked over the case with friends and acquaintances, it's evident to me that that one of the primary questions is why the death penalty is not an option here, when the crime is the murder of two innocent people. The results of my research follow.
WHY NO DEATH PENALTY?
Although Lyndale D. Henderson, whose trial begins tomorrow, Monday, Sept. 22, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, he will not face the death penalty.
Ironically, it was a Missouri case that barred the death penalty for juveniles who kill before the age of 18.
Similarities to the Shepard case are striking.
In 1993, Christopher Simmons, then 17, talked two of his friends, Charlie Benjamin, 15, and John Tessmer, 16, into helping him burglarize the home of an older couple and rob them of money allegedly stockpiled in their mobile home. Ultimately, Tessmer refused to go along with the plan and did not participate, but Simmons and Benjamin, assured by Simmons they'd get away with the crime because they were too young, carried out the crime.
Only the wife of their intended victim was present when the two entered the mobile home through a back window. When she recognized Simmons as the person with whom she'd earlier been involved in a traffic accident, Simmons bound and gagged her, covered her face with duct tape, and threw her, alive and conscious, into the Meramec River. Her body was found the next day; the cause of death was drowning. Simmons was arrested the following day at his high school. Within less than two hours after his arrest, Simmons confessed.
Tessmer was later charged with conspiracy, but charges were dropped when he agreed to testify against Simmons. Benjamin is currently serving a sentence of life with no parole at Bonne Terre.
Simmons was convicted by a St. Louis County court and sentenced to death. Despite appeals and an argument of ineffective counsel in a request for a new trial, his execution date was eventually set for May 1, 2002.
After Simmons' case had been decided, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Atkins v. Virginia (2002), that mentally retarded persons cannot be executed. Citing the Atkins case, Simmons filed a petition for post-conviction relief and the Missouri Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. On August 26, 2003, the Court resentenced Simmons to life without parole.
Missouri authorities, however, were unsatisfied with the decision and pressed on with the case, appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case, Roper v. Simmons, was decided in favor of Simmons, when, in a 5-4 decision issued March 1, 2005, the court said the death penalty was too severe for juveniles. At the time, the United States was one of only a few countries that allowed the execution of teenagers.
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said, "The age of 18 is the point where society draws the line for many reasons between childhood and adulthood. It is, we conclude, the age at which the line for death eligibility ought to rest."
Kennedy was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, and the Missouri Supreme Court's resentencing decision was upheld.
Supreme Court decision:
Full text of Roper v. Simmons:
Juvenile arrests for homicide, 1984-2006:
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Kathy Fairchild received a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration in 1986 from Marycrest College, Davenport, Iowa. She is also a 2003 graduate of the paralegal program at New York University. She moved to Marshall in 2006, following a career of more than 30 years with the world's largest farm equipment manufacturer. She is an Air Force brat and grandmother of four.