Jury recommends death penalty for Christopher Henderson in Madison County mass murder

Attorney Mark McDaniel says the penalty phase is the most important part in any capital case because twelve jurors are tasked with deciding between life or death.

Posted: Jul 5, 2021 4:11 PM
Updated: Jul 6, 2021 11:40 AM

Tuesday morning UPDATE: A jury has recommended the death penalty for Christopher Henderson.

All votes on the penalty recommendations were 11 to 1.

Stay with WAAY 31 for updates

From earlier:

Tuesday, jurors in the Christopher Henderson trial will resume penalty phase deliberations, after a three-day recess for the holiday weekend.

Jurors found Henderson guilty of all 15 counts of capital murder for the killings of five people at a home in New Market back in 2015.

Attorney Mark McDaniel says the penalty phase is the most important part in any capital case. More important than the guilty or innocent phase, because now these twelve jurors are tasked with deciding between life or death.

"What you're looking at is you're looking at twelve people up their, like I said, just good decent people that have never seen anything like this, the pictures they saw last week. And now they're deciding life and death issues," explains McDaniel.

Behind closed doors, the jury is discussing aggravating circumstances, reasons to vote for the death penalty, versus mitigating circumstances, reasons to vote for life without parole.

"It's up to each individual, it's up to each juror, to weigh the aggravating and mitigating circumstances. It's not mathematics, it's not physics, it's just you use your good god given common sense," says McDaniel.

The jurors already found Henderson guilty on all 15 counts of capital murder, and each count is one aggravating circumstance to consider.

Plus one more.

"All capital murder cases are bad, but this prosecution argued that this particular case was especially heinous, atrocious and cruel as compared to all other capital murder cases. So that's another aggravating circumstance the jury can consider," explains McDaniel.

With such an important decision ahead of them, McDaniel says a three-day break came at the perfect time.

"It certainly didn't hurt for them to have a break and get away from this awhile and maybe clear their minds a bit and then come back and start deliberating, because what they're going to do now is the most important thing they've done in the case, they're recommending life and death," says McDaniel.

Unlike in other states where the jury decides the sentencing, this jury is only giving a recommendation to the judge, who can then overrule their recommendation.

Since this capital murder case took place back in 2015, an old law applies which allows for judicial override.

That means rather than having the jurors decide the sentencing, they present their recommendation to the judge who can chose to override their recommendation.

McDaniel explains, "(If) the jury recommends life without parole, the judge could override it and give the death penalty. If they recommend the death penalty, the judge could override it and give life without parole. I am not aware of a case in Alabama where a judge has overruled a death sentence, a death recommendation, and given life without parole. There have been a number of cases where the jury has recommended life without parole and the judge overrides that and give the death penalty."

For capital murder cases that happened after April of 2017, the jury automatically sets the sentence.

After the jury deliberates and gives their recommendation, the judge will set another hearing in four to six weeks to hand down the formal sentence.

McDaniel says there is no way to tell how long the penalty phase will last since no one knows what the jury is going to decide behind those closed doors.

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