HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Jury selection involving 130 prospective jurors got underway Monday in the capital murder trial of Christopher Henderson.
Henderson, 46, is facing a possible death sentence for the killings of five people, including his 9-months pregnant wife.
Madison County Circuit Judge Chris Comer last week spelled out how the jury selection process will work. The jury pool was asked to report in four shifts Monday to receive an initial briefing and fill out a 40-page detailed questionnaire.
The prosecution and defense will review the questionnaires on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then beginning Thursday and running until June 22, jurors will be questioned by the attorneys in the case. Opening statements are set to take place on June 23.
Henderson faces multiple capital murder counts in the August 2015 killings and house fire that shocked the New Market community.
The victims were Henderson’s estranged wife Kristen Smallwood Henderson, who was nine months pregnant; her unborn child; her mother, Carol Jean Smallwood; her 8-year-old son, Clayton Chambers; and her 1-year-old nephew, Eli Sokolowski. The indictment refers to the child Kristen Henderson was carrying as a “full-term female child,” who surviving family members refer to as “Loryn Brooke Smallwood.”
Kristen Henderson filed for a protection order against her husband on July 29, asking that he be barred from coming within 500 feet of the New Market home where she was staying with her parents. The judge granted the protection order.
She and her family members were killed six days later.
The couple was going through a divorce. On July 31 Kristen Henderson petitioned the court to dismiss the divorce claim, arguing she and Christopher Henderson were not legally married. In the court filing she said Christopher Henderson had married Rhonda Carlson in February 2013, more than a year before she married Henderson — in September 2014.
Henderson is charged with the killings along with Carlson, who is facing a separate case and is expected to testify in Henderson’s trial.
The 15-count indictment against Henderson was part of his arraignment Thursday. Each count is related to capital murder, including killing someone under 14, the murder of someone who filed a protection order, killing someone in the course of an arson, killing someone in the course of killing two or more people and killing someone in the course of a burglary.
When Judge Comer finished reading the charges Thursday, the judge asked Henderson how he pled.
“Innocent,” Henderson answered. His attorney Bruce Gardner then told the court Henderson was pleading “not guilty.”
Gardner, who is representing Henderson along with attorney Robin Wolfe, said both the defense and prosecution favored a longer selection process, including the detailed questionnaire.
“Because the consequences of the case are so high,” Gardner said. “There’s an entire section related to their views on the ultimate punishment of death, and also several subcategories therein, that might reflect further on that. So, it’s the nature of the penalty sought that’s driving the train on that.”
Madison County District Attorney’s Office Chief Trial Attorney Tim Gann and Assistant District Attorney Shauna Barnett are prosecuting Henderson. The prosecution is seeking the death penalty in the case.