Jury deliberating in Christopher Henderson capital murder trial

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. – The jury deliberation process will continue Wednesday morning in the capital murder trial of Christopher Henderson. Henderson is accused of killing 5 people at a home in New Market and then lighting the house on fire in 2015.

The victims have been identified as Henderson’s 9-months-pregnant wife Kristen Smallwood, her unborn baby Loryn Brooke Smallwood, her 8-year-old son Clayton Chambers, her one-year-old nephew Eli Solokowski, and Kristen’s mother, Jean Smallwood.

Day four of testimony in the Christopher Henderson capital murder trial was expected to begin Tuesday morning after the prosecution rested its case Monday.

But there was an unexpected turn of events. Judge Chris Comer asked the defense to bring up its first witness to the stand, Christopher Henderson’s attorney immediately announced that they are resting their case.

Judge Comer reminded Henderson that he had the opportunity to take the stand in his own defense regardless of what his lawyers suggested, but Henderson still chose not to take the stand.

The trial then quickly moved to closing arguments. A main focus was the second suspect in this case, Henderson’s first wife, Rhonda Carlson. Attorneys on both sides argued about her involvement and the relevance of it in the case.

Madison County Assistant District Attorney Shauna Barnett laid out all 15 capital murder charges against Henderson, explaining why he should be found guilty for each and every one.

Christopher Henderson is facing three capital murder charges for each of the three children that were killed, making it a total of nine charges associated with their deaths:

  • Intentional murder of a victim under the age of 14
  • Intentional murder committed during the course of first-degree burglary
  • Intentional murder during arson in the first degree

Four capital murder charges in the death of Kristen Smallwood:  

  • Intentional murder committed during the course of first-degree burglary
  • Murder of two or more pursuants in the course of one scheme or course of conduct
  • Intentional murder during arson in the first degree
  • Intentional murder during the course of violating the protection order a victim issued against the defendant

Two counts of capital murder in the death of Jean Smallwood, Kristen’s mother:

  • Intentional murder committed during the course of first-degree burglary
  • Intentional murder during arson in the first degree.

Barnett answered the question “How do we know it’s murder?” by attributing gunshot wounds and stab wounds on the victims.

She said they knew it was planned by explaining the research investigators found on Henderson’s phone and showing video of him practicing with a gun only weeks prior to the killings.

Barnett then spoke on the timeline of events explaining the prosecution’s theory of how Henderson was the main perpetrator. She said he was in the house at least 20 minutes, while his alleged co-conspirator, Rhonda Carlson was inside for only four minutes. Barnett also pointed out Carlson testified that Henderson needed to burn his clothes because of blood spatter and Carlson said she remained in the same clothes all day.

Finally, Barnett said Henderson is heard on dash camera footage saying, “I’m glad you caught me when you did.”

Defense attorney Bruce Gardner then addressed the jury. His theory of events places the entire blame on Carlson, even comparing her to the fictional character Norman Bates. Gardner mentioned how Carlson admitted on the stand that the truth does not come easy to her. 

The defense attorney also talked about the clothes Carlson and Henderson were wearing the day of the killings saying Carlson could have done the murders herself and changed into identical clothing after.

Madison County DA Chief Trial Attorney Tim Gann spoke during the state’s rebuttal. He addressed Carlson’s involvement saying even if the defense’s theory proved to be true, Henderson is also guilty by helping with the crimes in any way.

Christopher Henderson’s fate now lies with the jury. Before deliberation began, Judge Comer explained the rules to the jury, went over each individual charge and the threshold that must be met to find a defendant guilty. It was a process that took two hours. Judge Comer mentioned in court it was the most time he had ever spent charging a jury before deliberation.

Also before the jury deliberated, the four alternate jurors were identified and separated from the 12 jurors who will be deciding whether or not to convict. Judge Comer told the alternates they still must follow the rules he outlined for jurors, such as not using social media or watching the news.

He also asked the alternates to stay within 15 minutes of the courthouse while the jury is deliberating since they must be in court each time the judge addresses the jury as a whole.

The jury is scheduled to reconvene at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

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