“This is the most repulsive case I have ever seen,” Judge Richard Henderson declared as he took up the sordid matter of Steven J. Henry, lately of Laytonville.
Henderson, pushing 70, is the oldest judge in the Mendocino County Courthouse except for a few retired judges who fill in occasionally.
“Even in all my years as a lawyer, I never saw anything more disgusting than this,” he added.
We’ve embalmed some truly hideous characters in these pages, but never have we encountered a more abominable specimen of depravity than Steven James Henry.
Last Friday, Mr. Henry pled to six counts of molesting his own daughters, having subjected the two girls to sexual abuse from the time the eldest was about three and until the younger was 18 years old. As the girls got older and started resisting their father's predations, he began raping them by brute force. This went on until the older girl defied her father and went for help.
These serial violations of his two daughters went on under the nose of Mrs. Henry and, then, a second Mrs. Henry. Mr. Henry, by the way, also functioned as a lay preacher.
Since this was a plea arrangement, the terrible specifics of Henry's crimes were limited to generalized statements of his crime.
At all events, Steven Henry was finally arrested in January of 2010.
There was some commotion in the courtroom as a small crowd gathered for the sentencing. The lawyers went into the judge’s chambers to discuss the plea arrangement and the bailiff — a tough old veteran of the Mendocino County’s Sheriffs office who has (after this one) pretty much seen it all — laid down the law.
He leaned threateningly over the gallery rail and said, “If I hear any more comments from the audience, I’ll clear this courtroom!”
There were six deputies in the room. Trouble must have been anticipated, and it soon became apparent why. Mr. Henry’s latest love-interest, it turned out – got out of her seat and went whining up to one of the deputies, saying, “But you don’t understand! He wouldn’t do a thing like that! He’s innocent! Those girls are lying little”—
“Ma’am,” the deputy cautioned her, “you had better take a seat or leave the courtroom.”
A kid in his 20s — a hard-looking space cadet with a hippy girl who followed him like a puppy — looked enough like Standing By Her Man to be her son. The two kids got mom to sit down and be quiet.
The lawyers emerged from chambers.The prosecutor was Mr. Lauder from the Attorney General’s Office, which suggests that this case had originally been defended by the present DA, David Eyster. Attorney Steve Carter had been appointed to represent Steven Henry since Eyster was elected DA; and to preclude a conflict of interest, the Attorney General’s Office had taken over the prosecution. Judge Henderson followed them out and the court was called to order.
Mr. Henry sat by himself in the jury box. He doesn’t look much like his booking photo. His hair has grayed; he's trimmed his hair and mustache down to a stubble and sprouted a matching beard. He also wears glasses now. He’s changed his look. He knows, we may safely presume, that this story will arrive at the prison about the same time he does, and while he’s been segregated from the general population at the County Jail, he's probably in for a rough ride in the Big House.
Mr. Carter started Henry’s doom rolling by assuring the court that his client was not going to withdraw his guilty plea.
Judge Henderson said, “You understand that your plea is to four separate felonies for 14 years in the state prison, the stipulated sentence agreed to by the parties?”
Henry didn’t bother to get up, but indicated he understood.
Henderson continued: “I have read the report and recommendations by the probation office and, based on the facts of the case, I am inclined to follow the much harsher sentencing recommendations. I will, however, for important reasons, go along with the stipulated sentence agreed to by the two parties.”
Probation had recommended 20 years in prison, the maximum allowable for the offense. The reasons Henderson didn’t impose the maximum sentence was in consideration for the victims, who had also agreed to the deal.
“The court will therefore deny probation and sentence Mr. Henry to the stipulated term of 14 years. I appreciate the Probation Department’s ability to better assess these situations and encourage them to continue to do so regardless of the fact that the courts do not always follow their recommendations. In this case we have decided to abide by the stipulated sentence because of the mother’s hardship of having the victims testify against a family member. Before I proceed, would any of the victims like to make an impact statement?”
Henry's older daughter, now a pretty young woman of 23, came forward and delivered a statement which, for its power and grace, was deeply moving. She told how her father had used sex to make her feel like the preferred
sibling — “I thought Daddy was showing me preference!” She pronounced “Daddy” with a rare ironic loathing.
She told how she learned to hide what was happening to her, the attendant shame and guilt, the constant temptations to suicide, then of her resolve to survive, of going to bed with a Maglite and a pair of butcher’s scissors, lying in wait for “Steven.”
She told how she wouldn’t let him defeat her. And during this speech she repeatedly asserted her resolve, her strength, her inviolate sense of herself to survive the twisted attentions of the man who should have been her protector.
She told how she’d become a teacher, how she was putting herself through college, how she was there for her family. At this point she turned to them and said, “I love you both” – how she would often drop whatever she was doing to help them.
She told how she’d survived the molestation and rape; how the wretched Henry had not destroyed her ability to love her husband — “a true-hearted prince, I love you, Baby,” she said, turning again to her husband.
Then she told Henry that “nobody deserves credit for the woman I am; nobody but me! My life has just begun; I survived and I am free, thank you.”
After a pause wherein the whole room seemed to take a deep heart-swelling breath, Judge Henderson offered a few words of congratulations. He is usually rather eloquent in these situations but seemed somewhat outclassed by this performance, and began with a stammer, his eyes blinking rapidly.
“Thank you, (We've omitted the names of the two victims)… I’m… uh, I’m glad you have such self-confidence after the…experience, uh, congratulations… Does anyone else have something they would like to say?”
Nobody was up to following that.
The Attorney General prosecutor said, “We’ll submit it on that, your honor.”
Henderson pronounced the sentence.
“In one sense,” he said, “this is an easy sentence, it being stipulated to. But in another it is the most repulsive case I’ve ever seen. Mr. Henry, based on the information I’ve been provided as to what you have done to [the two sisters] I have no reason whatsoever to doubt you made your daughters the object of your sexual lust. One of your primary obligations as a parent is to provide a moral context for what is Right and Wrong,* an obligation you perverted and in the process sacrificed their lives for what can only be described as your own unnatural pleasures. For your own sadistic pleasure you perverted the expectations every child has a right to in life, but the most disgusting thing of all, when you were caught, you turned to religion trying to justify what you were doing with scripture from the Old Testament. Harrowing details have been revealed since the victims have reached 18, but the number of times and the details of the abuse remains incomprehensible to me.”
Henderson took up a thick folder and said, “I have here a great number of letters from family and friends, the community in general, and in this case all of them are filled with expressions of disgust. All these letters from the scene of the betrayal of your family and community reflect the same disgust and they all felt that the term of 14 years was far too lenient and I agree. But this is what has been agreed to by the family, the reason being that that way the trial would be avoided and [the victims] would not have to take the stand and relive in detail all these years of abuse.”
Mr. Henry, a true psychopath, sat bland-faced in his box, no shadow of emotion at any time disturbed his features.
The 14 years would include two fines of $2800 each; and restitution in the amount of $10,000 each was ordered for the victims. The usual fees would be included at the maximum rate.
The audience was ordered to remain seated while Henry was removed. His lunatic girlfriend positioned herself by the door. As Henry was taken out he spoke to her.
“See ya,” he said.
As the rest of us left the courtroom she was huddled in a corner howling like a forlorn wolf while the two kids accompanying her hovered protectively over her.
(*Liberal Mendoland often seems to subscribe to what Alasdair MacIntyre calls “emotivism,” the idea that it’s impossible to secure moral agreement in our culture because all judgments are based on how we feel at the moment. It’s what James David Hunter in The Death of Character describes as the “free-floating individual as the essential moral unit. Morality was once revealed, inherited and shared, but now it’s thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your heart.”)