Jury recommends death penalty for Christopher Henderson, convicted of murdering five people in 2015

Huntsville

MADISON COUNTY, Ala. — A Madison County jury recommended the death penalty for Christopher Henderson Tuesday, five days after finding him guilty of more than a dozen counts of capital murder.

The jury found Henderson guilty of 15 counts Thursday for the brutal murders of his wife, Kristin Smallwood; her unborn daughter, Loryn Brook Smallwood; her mother, Carol Jean Smallwood; her 8-year-old son, Clayton Chambers; and her 1-year-old nephew, Eli Sokolowski.

The jury voted 11-1 in favor of recommending the death penalty on all charges, finding the crimes were especially, heinous, atrocious and cruel compared to other capital offenses.

Kristen Smallwood, Clayton Chambers, Eli Sokolowski and Jean Smallwood died in a fire on St. Clair Lane on August 4, 2015. Henderson was nine months pregnant. (Photos: Gofundme)

Madison County Circuit Court Judge Chris Comer has the option to override the jury’s recommendation and sentence Henderson to death. The state abolished the option of judicial override in 2017, but the crimes Henderson was convicted of happened in 2015, before that law took effect.

The victims all were either stabbed or shot to death and burned in a home in New Market in August 2015, less than a week after Kristen Smallwood filed for a protection order to keep Henderson 500 feet away from the house.

During the trial, Henderson’s defense attorney said his other wife, Rhonda Carlson, planned and carried out the killings. Henderson never divorced Carlson before marrying Smallwood. Carlson made a deal with prosecutors to testify against Henderson in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.

Rhonda Carlson testified against Christopher Henderson in order to avoid the death penalty in her own capital murder trial.

In closing arguments of Friday’s sentencing phase, defense attorney Bruce Gardner asked the jury to give Henderson mercy and said it was not fair to sentence Henderson to death if Carlson wouldn’t face the same punishment.

Madison County prosecutor Tim Gann told the jury life without parole lessened what Henderson did, and he mentioned the extremely violent way the victims were killed.

Henderson will be officially sentenced October 14. Judge Chris Comer said he won’t make a final decision on sentencing until both sides present their case that day.

Henderson will be held in custody without bond until then.

Online court records show Rhonda Carlson’s capital murder case has a status call set for July 15. A trial date has not been set.

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