MADISON COUNTY, Ala. — Madison County District Judge Chris Comer held another pretrial status conference Tuesday in the death penalty case against Christopher Henderson. A case that began six years ago in Madison County is finally heading to trial in less than two weeks.
Henderson, is charged with killing five people, including two children and his pregnant wife in August of 2015, before setting the house on fire.
The hearing primarily consisted of the logistics of the upcoming capital murder trial, such as jury pool selection, questionnaires, and social media concerns.
One of the biggest developments in the last status conference surrounded the defense’s possibility of filing a motion to “sequester the jury.” That basically means the jury would be kept together the entire trial away from their workplaces and homes, and it’s very rare.
Ultimately, Henderson’s defense attorney Bruce Gardner decided not to file the motion.
“I did,” said Gardner. “That question is really up to the… ultimately up to the judge’s discretion whether or not it’s granted or not and it’s not error for him to deny it, but I think, in the final analysis, this jury is going to be with us for probably three, maybe four weeks and I thought that would be too taxing on just about everybody.”
Judge Comer, the prosecution, and the defense also discussed potentially putting restrictions on media coverage while the trial is in session. Nothing was set in place, but the judge said it would be further discussed at the next status conference.
Gardner says the jury’s use of social media to enhance their knowledge of the case is forbidden.
“Jurors rely on it and go to it quite a bit… I don’t, myself — Facebook or Twitter or anything like that — but a lot of people do, and there have been occasions where people have accessed social media, including jurors, during the proceeding of a trial, and that’s forbidden,” said Gardner.
At the last status conference, the prosecution and the defense each had their own draft of a questionnaire for the 130 potential jurors, but Tuesday, Judge Comer presented his own. He said he used the state’s draft as a template and molded in some of the defense’s points as well, including confidentiality wording from the defense.
The jury pool will be brought in 30 at a time every hour and a half. After reading a description of the kind of trial they can expect, they will take the lengthy questionnaire that asks about the potential juror’s background and opinions.
At the very start of the conference, the defense withdrew a motion to suppress a statement.
“We had filed a motion to suppress a statement that was alleged to have been made by Chris Henderson,” said Gardner. “However, when we checked with the witness and keep in mind, this is almost 6 years ago now, he had no recollection of that statement so we dropped the motion.”
Gardner confirmed the statement had something to do with a witness who claims Henderson said something along the lines of “I’m glad you arrested me now.” Gardner said because that witness no longer remembered this happening, it wouldn’t be used in the trial. Hence, the withdrawal of the motion.
The next status conference is set for June 10, four days before the start of the trial. Judge Comer said that is when Henderson’s arraignment will be held, along with the discussion on social media restrictions for media.