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Russell Henderson, Convicted of Murdering Matthew Shepard, Wants His Rights Back
Cheyenne Wyoming Tribune-Eagle ^ | 04-07-03 | Rule, Juliette

Posted on 04/07/2004 3:26:04 PM PDT by Theodore R.

Henderson wants his rights back If the man convicted of murdering Matthew Shepard is granted post-conviction relief, he could ask for a sentence reduction.

By Juliette Rule Published in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle

LARAMIE - Russell Henderson's rights were violated when the state public defender's office failed to discuss the pros and cons of appeal with him, an attorney writes in a motion for post-conviction relief filed Friday.

Henderson pleaded guilty April 5, 1999, to the kidnapping and murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard.

Now Henderson wants to go back to that day and reclaim those limited rights, according to the petition filed in Albany County District Court.

That includes the right to ask the court for a sentence reduction, a motion that must be filed no more than one year after a conviction. But while that day has long passed, Laramie attorney Tim Newcomb slid the petition for post-conviction relief in just days before that five-year deadline.

Henderson is serving two consecutive life sentences for his role in the October 1998 murder and kidnapping. Co-defendant Aaron McKinney was convicted by a jury, and a year after Shepard's murder, he was sentenced to serve two consecutive life terms in a plea negotiated when then-Albany County Attorney Cal Rerucha agreed not to pursue the death penalty.

In petitioning Albany County District Judge Jeffrey Donnell, Newcomb is asking the court to roll back the post-conviction relief clock and restore Henderson's right to argue for a sentence reduction, which under state law can only be filed within a year after the conviction.

That opportunity wasn't presented to him, nor was the chance to argue that Henderson's sentence was considerably heavier than Dennis Menefee's, the man convicted of murdering Henderson's mother in a case similar to the Shepard murder.

"When compared to that of McKinney and Menefee, (Henderson's sentence) was constitutionally disproportionate," Newcomb wrote in the petition.

That Henderson never was approached about his options on appeal isn't contested by a state public defender who specializes in appellate law. Donna Domonkos signed an affidavit in March stating she's never discussed the case with Henderson.

But a motion filed in July 1999 indicates Henderson remained interested in his case when he asked the court to order public defender Wyatt Skaggs to supply him with a free copy of his case file - all five boxes of it. That motion, which uses a lawyer's language, was filed by Henderson without an attorney's help.

The petition also says it was never considered that Henderson's role in Shepard's murder was lesser than McKinney's. Henderson never struck the 105-pound Shepard, though McKinney did so 18 times over Henderson's protests, according to court records.

Eleven days after Henderson pleaded guilty and was sentenced, Menefee was charged with the first-degree murder and rape of Henderson's mother, Cindy Dixon, whom he drove north of Laramie and then left to walk home. Her frozen body was found at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 3, 1999.

Four months later, and just days after Henderson was sentenced, Menefee bartered a guilty plea for a manslaughter conviction. In exchange for that plea, prosecutors dismissed the original charges, but for that crime similar to the one committed against Shepard, prosecutors asked that Menefee serve three years in prison. That term wasn't enough for the judge, who ordered Menefee to serve four to nine years in prison.

Menefee had a felony record and was on probation when he drove Dixon to her death. Henderson had a relatively clean criminal record, was an Eagle Scout but didn't hold a high school diploma, according to transcripts.

At sentencing, McKinney abandoned his right to appeal and agreed not to profit from his knowledge of the case or talk to reporters.

TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society
KEYWORDS: aaronmckinney; albanyco; cindydixon; civilliberties; dennismenefee; gayrights; hatecrimes; laramie; matthewshepard; murder; russellhenderson; wy; wyattskaggs

1 posted on 04/07/2004 3:26:06 PM PDT by Theodore R.
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To: Theodore R.
Hell no! It's too bad he didn't get the death penalty. If he hadn't plead guilty, he may have gotten it. Perhaps he should consider retracting his plea bargain and asking for a jury trial.
2 posted on 04/07/2004 3:38:06 PM PDT by Paleo Conservative (Do not remove this tag under penalty of law.)
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3 posted on 04/07/2004 3:38:12 PM PDT by Support Free Republic (Hi Mom! Hi Dad!)
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To: Theodore R.
Although many may not agree with Matthews lifetsyle, this kid was beaten and left to die on a fence post in Wyoming. The man who was convicted of killing him asks for common decency in terms of his own life? I hope justice is upheld. Maybe it's just me, but the convicted cries foul like a true liberal. I pray for both families involved, what an awful experience.
4 posted on 04/07/2004 4:12:31 PM PDT by LadyShallott ("An armed society is a polite society."~Robert A. Heinlein)
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To: Theodore R.
Henderson wants his rights back

Hell no! You should have thought of that before you committed the act of agression! Maybe when Shepard gets his right to live, you can get your right to freedom back, until that time, rot in that cell of yours scumbag!

5 posted on 04/07/2004 4:15:53 PM PDT by BigSkyFreeper (Liberalism is Communism one drink at a time. - P.J. O'Rourke)
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