An Alabama man convicted on 15 counts of capital murder in July for viciously killing his estranged pregnant wife, her mother, and three young children in 2015 was sentenced to death on Thursday.
Madison County Circuit Court Judge Chris Comer passed the sentence on 46-year-old Christopher Henderson after the same jury that previously convicted him on the capital murder charges voted 11-1 to recommend the state put him to death, Huntsville CBS affiliate WHNT-TV reported. The jurors took approximately two days of deliberating to reach the recommendation.
Henderson was found guilty of fatally shooting and stabbing his estranged wife Kristen Smallwood, her unborn child Loryn Brooke Smallwood, her 8-year-old son Clayton Chambers, her one-year-old nephew Eli Sokolowski, and her mother Jean Smallwood. Kristen was reportedly nine months pregnant when Henderson stabbed her to death.
Under Alabama Code § 13A-6-1, “an unborn child in utero at any stage of development, regardless of viability” is considered a person when their life is ended in a criminal homicide.
The slayings all took place inside Kristen’s home in New Market, which Henderson then set on fire.
Henderson’s first wife, Rhonda Carlson—to whom he was still married at the time he and Smallwood were married—conceded that she helped him with the killings and testified against him at his trial in exchange for prosecutors taking the death penalty off the table.
Kelly Smallwood Sokolowski, Kristen’s sister and the mother of young Eli, addressed the court at the behest of Madison County Chief Deputy District Attorney Tim Gann during Thursday’s sentencing hearing.
“This has affected me in many ways. I lost my mother and my best friend. She was the one I could talk to about anything. I lost my sister Kristen. She loved especially when it came to her son and her unborn daughter Lauren,” she said, according to Birmingham FOX affiliate WBRC.
“Eli was my whole heart. I had to find a new way to get through each day without him. I never got to hear him say mommy or have his first day of school—graduate, get married, or take care of me when I get old.”
Prior to Comer passing the sentence, Henderson and his defense attorney Bruce Gardner both addressed the court on his behalf.
“Life is always the better choice. We ask that you impose life imprisonment without the possibility of parole,” Gardner reportedly said.
He also highlighted the fact that not all 12 jurors voted for death, reportedly saying, “someday I predict it will be that way, it will require a unanimous jury,” before adding, “Maybe this is the case that will do that. We’ll find out.”
Throughout the trial, Gardner had repeatedly painted Carlson as the mastermind behind the slayings, referring to her plea agreement with prosecutors as a “deal with the devil,” per a previous report from WHNT.
Henderson offered a brief apology when he spoke.
“I’d like to give my deepest apologies to the family,” Henderson reportedly told the court. “This is an event that should’ve never happened. I’d also like to apologize to my mom and my daughter. I had papers written as I laid in bed with Covid for a month. This is something I had to say from the heart.”
Judge Comer apparently did not find the apology convincing, sentencing Henderson to death soon after.
“Mr. Henderson, may God have mercy on your soul,” Comer reportedly said, adding, “May God provide peace to the families of this tragedy.”
A previous report from WHNT included testimony from Dr. Steven Duton, who provided the jury with graphic details of how Henderson’s victim’s died.
“Smallwood was 9-months pregnant. Her baby was removed and also sustained stab wounds. Smallwood’s 8-year-old son, Clayton Chambers, was stabbed multiple times. Her 1-year-old nephew was also stabbed several times,” the report stated. “The 1-year-old is believed to of died from carbon monoxide poisoning from when the house was set on fire. Dr. Dunton says there is no way to tell if the infant was conscious when the fire overtook the house and the victims.”
Duton also testified that based on scarring in the lungs, all of the victims except for Eli died before the house was set ablaze.
[image via Madison County Sheriff’s Department]
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