JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – A 68-year-old Missouri woman who was sentenced to life in prison in 1982 for her role in a robbery that resulted in a man’s slaying was freed from prison Wednesday after Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens commuted her sentence to time served.
Advocates have for years supported releasing Judy Henderson, who investigators said persuaded Springfield jeweler Harry Klein to drive out of Springfield with her on July 13, 1981. Henderson’s boyfriend, Greg Cruzen, shot Klein while trying to steal jewelry, Greitens said, but Cruzen was acquitted of the crime. The judge at Henderson’s trial said she played a “relatively minor” role.
The decision came after Greitens and his counsel reviewed thousands of pages of information about the case and met with Henderson, her attorneys and other legal experts. Greitens’ spokesman said in a news release that the governor delivered the news to Henderson Wednesday at the Chillicothe Correctional Center. She was released later Wednesday afternoon, the Corrections Department said.
“Commuting Judy Henderson’s sentence to time served more than 35 years is the right thing to do,” Greitens said in a news release.
Former Greene County prosecutor Thomas Mountjoy, who tried Henderson’s case, said in the news release that he was in favor of Greitens’ decision.
“I handled thousands of criminal cases during my time as prosecutor,” Mountjoy said. “Judy’s is the first time I have supported clemency for someone I prosecuted.”
Henderson’s supporters have argued that her attorney during the trial had a conflict of interest because he was also representing Cruzen. The prosecutor offered a plea deal for Henderson in exchange for her testimony against Cruzen, but her attorney didn’t present the deal to her before she was convicted and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 50 years. Investigators said Cruzen and his lawyer then paid four witnesses to testify at his trial that Henderson confessed to shooting Klein.
Supporters also have cited testimony that indicated Henderson was a domestic violence victim and suffered from depression around the time Klein was killed.
Greitens noted in the news release that the state’s Board of Probation and Parole had recommended in 2004, 2007 and 2013 that then-Gov. Jay Nixon grant Henderson clemency and commute her sentence, saying she was unlikely to reoffend. Supporters said during her 35 years in prison, Henderson obtained her GED and college credits, completing several certifications and was a positive leader in the prison. Recently, she presented $6,000 raised by inmates to a battered women’s shelter.
Henderson’s case also was cited by supporters of bill that would have allowed nonviolent offenders older than 65 who are serving life sentences without parole to have hearings for early release if they served at least 25 years. The measure was rejected in May by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
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