HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — A Huntsville man facing a possible death sentence for the killings of five people, including his 9-months pregnant wife, was in court Thursday in preparation for his trial that begins Monday.
Christopher Henderson faces multiple capital murder counts in the August 2015 killings and house fire that shocked the New Market community.
The victims were Henderson’s estranged wife Kristin Smallwood Henderson, who was nine months pregnant; her unborn child; her mother, Carol Jean Smallwood; her 8-year-old son, Clayton Chambers; and her 1-year-old nephew, Eli Sokolowski. The indictment refers to the child Kristen Henderson was carrying as a “full term female child,” who surviving family members refer to as “Loryn Brooke Smallwood.”
Madison County Circuit Judge Chris Comer read the 15-count indictment against Henderson as part of his arraignment Thursday. Each count is related to capital murder, including killing someone under 14, the murder of someone who filed a protection order, killing someone in the course of an arson, killing someone in the course of killing two or more people and killing someone in the course of a burglary.
When Comer finished reading the charges, the judge asked Henderson how he pled.
“Innocent,” Henderson answered. His attorney Bruce Gardner then told the court Henderson was pleading “not guilty.”
Henderson is charged with the killings along with Rhonda Carlson, who is facing a separate case and is expected to testify in Henderson’s trial. Henderson was married to both Carlson and Kristin Henderson at the time of the killing.
Kristin Henderson filed for a protection order against him a few days before she was killed.
Much of Thursday’s hearing covered the logistics of jury selection. Judge Comer said the planned 130-member jury pool will be asked to report in four shifts Monday to receive an initial briefing and fill out 40-page detailed questionnaire.
Comer said the prosecution will review the questionnaires on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then beginning Thursday and running until June 22, jurors will be questioned by the attorneys in the case.
Jury selection is scheduled to be completed June 22, and opening statements in the case are expected June 23.
Defense attorney Bruce Gardner, who is representing Henderson along with attorney Robin Wolfe, said both the defense and prosecution favored a longer selection process, including the detailed questionnaire.
“Because the consequences of the case are so high,” Gardner said. “There’s an entire section related to their views on the ultimate punishment of death, and also several subcategories therein, that might reflect further on that. So, it’s the nature of the penalty sought that’s driving the train on that.”
Madison County District Attorney’s Office Chief Trial Attorney Tim Gann and Assistant District Attorney Shauna Barnett are prosecuting Henderson. The prosecution is seeking the death penalty in the case.
Judge Comer said Thursday 12 jurors and six alternates will ultimately be selected.