WARNING: The content related to this trial is extremely graphic in nature and describes the deaths of children.
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Prosecutors shared grim details of the deaths of five people during day two of testimony in the capital murder trial of Christopher Henderson.
Henderson is charged with killing five people, including two children and his pregnant wife in August 2015, before setting the family’s Madison County house on fire.
A second juror was excused from the Christopher Henderson capital murder trial Friday morning.
The juror cited a family health matter and Presiding Judge Chris Comer called a second alternate juror.
Comer previously excused a main juror and called an alternate prior to testimony Thursday morning; the alternate juror pool is down to four people.
Prosecutors began the second day of testimony by calling Dr. Steven Dunton with the Alabama Department of Forensic Services. Dunton described autopsy reports in grim detail saying there were more than 100 photographs taken for each of the five reports.
Kristen Smallwood was 9 months pregnant with Henderson’s child at the time of the killings. Her unborn daughter, her mother Jean Smallwood, her 8-year-old son, Clayton Chambers, her 1-year-old nephew Eli Sokolowski, were also killed that day.
Dunton reviewed the cause of death of each person and confirmed that some of the victims were still alive when the home was set on fire, though their injuries would have been fatal. The autopsy of Henderson’s pregnant wife Kristen Henderson showed that she had been stabbed numerous times and shot in the neck. The unborn child was cut from her body and the autopsy showed multiple sharp force injuries.
Kristen’s mother, Jean Smallwood was shot numerous times and stabbed in the eyes. She died before the fire started. Eight-year-old Clayton was stabbed and unable to breathe, but still conscious when the fire started. One-year-old Eli was stabbed several times, but his cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning.
The prosecution also called a witness from the Madison County Sheriff’s Office who was a crime scene investigator in 2015. Investigator Monroe said they were at the crime scene for around a week. Teams worked together to gather evidence and sift through the debris. The investigator testified that they took around 5,000 photographs at the scene.
After a break for lunch, forensic investigator Jason McMinn took the stand to discuss data collected from two of the three phones obtained in a search warrant from the residence, including call logs, contact lists, text messages, videos, and a Gmail account identified as Henderson’s.
McMinn stated a report was generated from the recently-purchased device based on web history, video and photos, and search history. According to the report, the online search records at the time of the killings were related to break-ins, breaking windows, pistol rounds, and what happens when a person is shot.
Next to take the stand, a witness appearing to work in the domestic violence protection office within the court system identified a protection order obtained on July 29 after Christopher Henderson moved out of the home. Records indicate Henderson was served with the order.
Rhonda Carlson, who has been charged with capital murder, took the stand as a prosecution witness with defense identifying her as the person who orchestrated the killings. Carlson was still married to Henderson when he married Kristen. She has been in custody since 2015.
Carlson stated her marriage to Henderson ended in 2014, but never filed paperwork for a formal divorce. She said they reconnected in June 2015, the same year as the killings.
Carlson said she and Henderson lived in an apartment a few weeks before the killings, where Henderson told her that he and Kristen were not getting along. She said Henderson began discussing going into Kristen’s home at night and shooting her father and anybody else who came down the stairs. Carlson was instructed to watch the stairs. Henderson also researched a plan to ambush Kristen’s father at a rental home, but Carlson said she did not believe him.
A few weeks before the killings, Henderson inquired about the viability of a baby if the mother was killed. The pair also researched guns and ammunition with Carlson receiving a 9mm pistol on her birthday, July 26, while Henderson got a .22 to carry out the plan.
The plan was initially to break into the home and shoot every member of the family, Carlson said. She stated after failing to pick the lock one evening, the pair “chickened out” a few days before the killings occurred. The pair eventually planned to carry out the plan during the day when the men were not home in an attempt to make Kristen’s father suffer.
Carlson stated both of them decided to burn the home down instead on the day of the killings. When asked if she knew who would be in the home, she stated, “Kristen, her mother, child home from school, Kristen’s son, and Eli.”
The pair went to Walmart, carried a daughter to school, and took a nap before going to the home on St. Clair Lane. Carlson was supposed to drop off Henderson and he would call when the murders were done, but he forgot his cell phone.
Carlson said she entered the home’s garage after realizing Henderson had left his phone, and drove around. She then retrieved the gas can, went inside the front door, and found Henderson standing near a body with blood all over him, the carpet, and the kitchen. No one was still alive, said Carlson.
Henderson began pouring gasoline and then use a lighter, according to Carlson’s testimony. The pair drove off while the house was on fire and went to Ditto Landing, where they burned their clothing. The pair originally discussed keeping the baby, but Carlson stated she did not want to be a mother again. Henderson said a “baby would just end up whining like her mom,” and decided he did not want it, per Carlson.
Carlson said she bought new clothes at Walmart and received a phone call from her daughter who said SWAT and police were at the home. The pair was arrested shortly after.
Prosecutor Tim Gann showed Carlson photos and videos of the vehicle used to get to the murder scene, as well as security camera footage, a photo of them at Walmart, and footage of Henderson practicing a lock-picking technique.
The judge stated the defense is planning a long cross-examination of the witness on Monday, after the state wraps up their proceedings.
We’ll have a live blog below as News 19’s investigative team covers the second day of testimony.
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