In a full courtroom filled with family members and law enforcement 31 year old Sarah Nicole Henderson pled guilty to two counts of capital murder on Wednesday in return for a sentence of life without parole. Jury selection for trial was scheduled to begin on July 30, and expected to last for up to three weeks.
The Payne Springs mother of three shot and killed her two daughters, aged 5 and 7, on November 2, 2017. She also attempted to shoot her husband Jacob as he lay sleeping, however the .380 caliber pistol failed to fire, waking her husband who took the gun away from her and called 911.
Earlier in the evening, an ambulance had been called to the residence because Henderson was exhibiting odd behaviors that alarmed her husband. Prior to the arrival of EMS however, Jacob called back to say that things had settled down and there was no need for service.
Henderson County Sheriff’s deputies continued to the residence to perform a security check, but were told by both Henderson that everything was alright.
Several hours later, the frantic call from Mr. Henderson came in saying that both girls were dead. Henderson could be heard in the background asking what she had done and saying that she was going to hell.
After her arrest and transport to the Henderson County jail, Sheriff’s Investigator Jerry Corder, along with investigator Jody Sorrels and District Attorney Investigator Balde Quintanilla, conducted an interview with Henderson in which she confessed to shooting her daughters and attempting to kill her husband.
When asked why she did it, she said, “I was going crazy” and “Just caught up in everyday life, you know”. She further indicated that she thought people were out to get her which was confirmed by Jacob and a friend she had been with the preceding day, each of whom described her paranoid behavior leading up to the shooting.
In accordance with the Court’s deadline for the State’s election on punishment, District Attorney Mark Hall filed notice that the State would seek the death penalty on June 1, 2018, while reserving “the right to withdraw this election and seek a sentence of life without parole should the defendant’s mental condition be deemed to preclude death, or other circumstances that may arise”.
Some months after her arrest, Henderson was examined by two psychologists who both determined that she was mentally competent to proceed to trial. The defendant then filed notice in August of 2018 that she would seek to claim insanity as a defense. In February 2019, the parties and the Court received the reports from two Court appointed psychologists regarding the defendant’s sanity at the time of the offense. One of which found her sane, and one insane.
A person is insane if “ … at the time of the conduct charged, the actor, as a result of severe mental disease or defect, did not know his conduct was wrong.” The question of sanity is left for the jury to decide, and if it finds the person insane, a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity is entered and the Court proceeds to a determination of civil commitment to a mental institution or outpatient treatment for evaluation and treatment.
The Court must then hold a hearing not later than 30 days to determine if as a result of severe mental illness, the person is likely to cause serious harm to another. If so, the person may be committed to either inpatient or outpatient care until discharged by the court. The period of commitment cannot exceed the maximum term provided by law for the underlying offense, which in the case of capital murder is life.
“Even with the split decision on Henderson’s sanity, I believe the facts and her own statements show that she knew her actions were wrong but with this plea, which was requested and approved by both Jacob Henderson and the father of one of the girls, we know that Sarah Henderson will be locked away for the rest of her natural life. The bars that keep her confined will be a daily reminder of what she did to two beautiful little girls; girls who loved her as their mommy, and trusted that she would protect them.”, said Hall.
“Choosing between death or life without parole is a difficult decision, but given all the facts and circumstances, I am confident that this plea will allow the family to move forward without being concerned whether Henderson would eventually be released from a mental hospital were she found to have been insane at the time of the offense.
She has also waived appeal of her conviction and punishment which brings some finality to a case where even if she had received the death penalty, it could take decades and endless court hearings, legal briefs and additional expert evaluations before actually having the sentence carried out.”
During the victim impact statement Toyna Uzzell the girls “bonus mom” (stepmother) spoke on behalf of the family, “ All we are left with are memories and pictures. Our family is forever broken.”
Uzzell told Henderson, “The girls were so full of life and had so much left to do. No time for first dances, true love or time to wed.”
“What you have done is unforgivable,” said Uzzell. “Death would be too good for you. You deserve to live in this nightmare you created.”
Since her arrests in 2017 Henderson has been held in isolation. Hillhouse said, “When we have a high profile case for their protection we keep them isolated from the other inmates.” The sheriff said she would be transferred to a facility as soon as the paper work was complete and a place becomes available at a Texas Department of Correction facility.