Jefferson City, Mo. — In 1982, Judy Henderson was sentenced to life in prison for what the trial judge described as a “relatively minor” role in a robbery-turned-murder.
Today, Gov. Eric Greitens commuted Judy Henderson’s sentence to time served: 35 years and 111 days. The Governor reached this decision after he and his counsel reviewed thousands of pages of reports, court transcripts, letters, and records related to Henderson’s case. The Governor’s legal team met with Henderson and her attorneys and conferred with legal ethics experts and the prosecutor who handled the case. After this thorough review, the Governor signed an order commuting the sentence of Judy Henderson. The commutation was signed and sealed by the Secretary of State this morning. The Governor delivered the news to Henderson at the Chillicothe Correctional Center at 1:00 p.m., and she will be released today.
“Commuting Judy Henderson’s sentence to time served—more than 35 years—is the right thing to do,” Greitens said.
Thomas Mountjoy, the former Greene County prosecutor who tried the cases against Henderson and her boyfriend, said, “I handled thousands of criminal cases during my time as a prosecutor. Judy’s case is the first time I have supported clemency for someone I prosecuted.”
In 1982, Judy Henderson was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years for her role in a robbery-turned-murder. After she was convicted, she was prevented from testifying against her boyfriend—who pulled the trigger—after he paid four witnesses to lie about her. She could have been out of prison decades ago if her lawyer had not lied to her about the offer of a plea deal.
Her boyfriend – the man who committed a robbery, fired a gun, killed someone, and shot Henderson herself in the process – went free, while Henderson, now 68, has served 35 years in state prison.
In 1981, Henderson helped her boyfriend rob a Springfield jeweler. At her boyfriend’s direction, Henderson met the jeweler and persuaded him to go with her to the outskirts of town. Her boyfriend joined them there. When the jeweler refused to hand over a ring and other valuables he was carrying, Henderson’s boyfriend shot the jeweler three times, killing him. Henderson did not know her boyfriend was bringing a gun, and the trial judge has stated that she was a “relatively minor participant.” One of the gunshots wounded Henderson, hitting her in the abdomen. She and her boyfriend were captured and charged with murder.
Henderson went on trial first. The same attorney represented both Henderson and her boyfriend. She asked her lawyer to seek a deal with the prosecutor for a lesser charge if she would testify and tell the truth about her boyfriend’s actions. Separately, the prosecutor offered Henderson’s attorney a lesser charge for her if she would testify against her boyfriend. Henderson may have served as few as 10 years if she had been able to accept the prosecutor’s deal.
Attorneys are required to tell their clients about settlement offers. However, Henderson’s attorney never told her about the offer. Instead, without asking Henderson, he told the prosecutor that Henderson rejected his deal. At the same time, he lied to Henderson and told her that the prosecutor rejected her request for a deal. He continued to represent both Henderson and her boyfriend, violating legal ethics and his duties to Henderson as a client. Without a deal, Henderson’s trial proceeded. She was convicted of capital murder in 1982 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years.
Henderson still wanted to testify against her boyfriend, who was awaiting trial. To prevent her from testifying, her boyfriend and his lawyer paid four prison inmates up to $2,500 each to lie under oath that Henderson had confessed to acting alone. Because of the paid, false testimony lined up against Henderson, the prosecutor chose not to call her as a witness during the boyfriend’s trial. In large part because she could not testify, the jury found the boyfriend not guilty. He walked out of the courtroom a free man as Henderson began her 50-year sentence.
Today, Judy Henderson is 68 years old. She has 15 years left on her sentence, making her ineligible for parole until she reaches age 83.
Since the 1980s, Henderson has asked Missouri governors for clemency. Clemency allows a governor to end prison sentences early by commutation or to remove a conviction from a person’s record by pardon.
Every clemency request is submitted to the Board of Probation and Parole, which provides a recommendation to the governor. The last three times the Board has considered requests from Henderson – in 2004, 2007, and 2013 – they have recommended that the governor grant her clemency and commute her sentence to allow for the possibility of parole and release to society. In support of their recommendation, the Board found all three times that she was not likely to reoffend.
During its review, the Board of Probation and Parole studied Henderson’s record. During her 35 years in prison, she obtained her GED and more than 100 hours of college credit. She received certifications or completed training as a paralegal, fitness instructor, hairdresser, and dog trainer. Over the decades she spent in prison, she became a leader in programs that connect inmates to their families and that give back to the community. Recently, she presented $6,000 raised by inmates to a local battered women’s shelter.