By Ed Brock
The Supreme Court of Georgia has overturned the death sentence of a man who pleaded guilty to the strangulation killing of a Clayton County woman.
In its decision, the court's Chief Justice Norman Fletcher wrote that they reversed the 2002 death sentence of Keith Darnel Henry because prosecutors were allowed to argue that he posed a future threat although they had no proper evidence to prove that statement. Justices George Carley, Hugh Thompson and Harris Hines dissented from the opinion that was issued on Nov. 8.
The charges against Henry stem from the Aug. 31, 1999 killing of 21-year-old Regina Dates during a kidnapping and robbery of Dates and her mother.
What happens next depends on the Clayton County District Attorney Bob Keller's Office, said Henry's attorney Steve Frey of Jonesboro.
"I believe the state will be allowed to retry his punishment," Frey said.
Because the court did not overturn Henry's guilty plea there will be no retrial for guilt or innocence.
Keller said his office hasn't made a decision yet whether to hold a new sentencing hearing for Henry or to file a motion for the Supreme Court to rehear the case.
"We'll also talk to the victim's family and explore the options with them," Keller said.
If they do hold a new hearing in the case, Keller said they likely would seek the death penalty again. Frey said that in that case he would "seek to expand our options."
Frey said he thinks his client's original waiver of a jury trial on his sentence may no longer apply and they will therefore seek to have a jury seated for the sentencing hearing.
Henry's case is rare in that few defendants plead guilty to murder charges in which they can face the death penalty.
On the day of Dates' killing, Henry and his wife Belinda Henry went to the Pointe South condominium where Regina Dates lived with her mother Sheila Dates and, posing as FBI agents, took the two women hostage. Keith Henry confessed to strangling Regina Dates to death while Belinda Henry and Sheila Dates went to the Marietta check-cashing store that Sheila Dates managed in order to get money out of the safe.
Although Belinda Henry attempted to strangle Sheila Dates as well after getting the money, Sheila Dates lived to testify against Keith Henry during Monday's sentencing hearing. After the verdict was read, Sheila Dates said she was relieved and, while an apology offered by Henry in his last words did not inspire pity in her for him, she did feel sorry for Belinda Henry.
Belinda Henry, who killed herself while FBI agents surrounded the New Jersey hotel where the two were staying about six weeks after the killing, had no criminal record before meeting Keith Henry, Clayton County Senior Assistant District Attorney Todd Naugle said during the hearing.
"By no means do I think this apology will ease what you are going through ? but it's all I have to offer," Henry said in his final statement before the verdict. "Maybe the taking of my life will bring some satisfaction to everybody."
In a tape-recorded interview with a police detective that was played at Henry's original sentencing hearing before Clayton County Superior Court Judge Albert Collier, Henry said he did not want to live.
Henry presented no evidence for mitigation during his original hearing.
"I think the most fair thing to say is he did very little to defend his life," Frey said.
Frey also said that if a new hearing is held he believes Henry will be "a little more helpful."