Plea hearing set for Rhonda Carlson charged with 18 counts of capital murder

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Rhonda Carlson, charged with 18 counts of capital murder, was at the Madison County courthouse Thursday for a status call. The defense attorney for Carlson confirmed that she would enter a guilty plea at a later hearing.

The judge set Carlson’s next court appearance for September 23.

Carlson recently testified in the capital murder trial of her former husband, Christopher Henderson, who the jury found guilty on 15 counts of capital murder in the killings of five people at a New Market home in 2015.

Henderson’s pregnant wife, who records show he was not legally married to because he never divorced Carlson, was among those killed.

Carlson reached a deal with the prosecution in Henderson’s trial to testify against him in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.

Erin Atkins, Carlson’s defense attorney said the deal took a number of months to sort out.

“We made arrangements with the state months ago,” Atkins said. “Part of our defense, and our goal, is to save our clients’ lives. Our strategy was to make an arrangement with the state in order to save her life. In doing so we what several meetings prior to Chris Henderson’s trial, in which we delivered some information and worked out some type of agreement so that we could move forward in this capacity.”

Madison County Assistant District Attorney Shauna Barnett said after the reviewed the facts of the case the plea agreement with Carlson made sense.

“The decision came after we’d reviewed all the evidence and we realized that ‘Yes, she’s absolutely culpable, she absolutely participated, but from the surveillance video timing, like we put out in Henderson, there’s no way she could have actively participated in the brutal, just heinous things that happened inside that house.

“There’s just no way, she wasn’t in there for enough time and the video supports that and so if you’re looking at who was the worst perpetrator, it’s him. So that was one of the factors in that, that she was willing to answer some more questions for us, and the fact that she actually told Investigator Nash what happened.”

Security video played in court in June during Henderson’s trial shows what appears to be Carlson trying to enter a door near the home’s garage, then getting in a vehicle and driving away.

She then returns to the home with a gas can.

Carlson says she did not take part in the act of killing – just planning, handling, and buying materials.

Barnett said the victims’ family understands the prosecution’s approach.

“They have been supportive of this decision, but of course it does help to not have to sit through another round of the autopsy photos, things like that,” Barnett said. “And, also just the resolution of it in a more timely fashion then — because if she did want her trial, we probably weren’t going to have it this fall — it’d be drug out. So this chapter — the Henderson trial chapter is closed, this chapter will be closed, at some point they will be at the finish line for this and be able to move completely on.

“So I know they’ve got be glad of that.”

Henderson is due to be sentenced on October 14. The jury in his trial recommended that he be sentenced to die.

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