|Charles Todd Henderson and Yareima Akl|
As we've shown for 10-plus years on this blog, such outcomes happen with disturbing regularity in Alabama courts -- both state and federal. The Henderson outcome is particularly disturbing because it effectively overrides the will of Jefferson County voters, who elected him last November in an upset over nine-year incumbent (and Bob Riley appointee) Brandon Falls. Of course, we've seen this story before with the Riley Political Machine. In 2002, the will of Alabama voters determined that Don Siegelman (like Henderson, a Democrat) had won a second term over Riley -- only to have overnight vote manipulation change the outcome.
In the Henderson matter, Riley Inc. apparently got caught napping -- convinced Falls would prevail over the little-known Henderson. When that didn't happen -- and they were faced with the possibility of an unfriendly DA in their home county -- members of Team Riley apparently turned to a political ally, former Attorney General Luther Strange, to bring bogus charges that now will keep Henderson from ever taking office. For good measure, the Alabama Supreme Court appointed corrupt Chilton County Judge Sibley Reynolds to hear the case.
How bogus were the charges against Henderson, and how unjust is his conviction? Well, a transcript from a hearing in the Akl divorce case shows Henderson was not asked about a romantic relationship with Ms. Akl? A private investigator's report that supposedly showed Henderson had "spent the night" at Ms. Akl's apartment did nothing of the sort. And based on press reports of the trial, no witness presented a shred of evidence that Henderson swore falsely in the divorce hearing; in fact, most witnesses reportedly testified to issues that had zero relevance to the perjury charge.
Upon what was the perjury charge based? A transcript of the hearing shows the following exchange between Henderson and Virginia Meigs, attorney for Charbel Akl, who was Ms. Akl's husband:
Q Okay. Now, since she has been campaigning for you, has there been a time where you have spent the night at her apartment?
We must remember that this was a criminal case, where the standard is guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt." Also, language in court cases generally is held to its "plain and ordinary" meaning.
What is the plain and ordinary meaning of the question Meigs put to Henderson? That is simple: During the time Ms. Akl had been campaigning for him, had Henderson ever spent the night at her apartment? According to press reports, no evidence was presented at trial to show Henderson's answer ("No") was false.
In fact, Henderson's attorneys argued the question was "fuzzy," and evidence shows that to be the case; even Meigs was confused about what she was asking. This is from later in the transcript, during an exchange between Meigs and Judge Patricia Stephens:
MS. MEIGS: And as a result, we need to evaluate both parents.
THE COURT: Absolutely.
MS. MEIGS: Their character and fitness as a parent. And if one parent is acting in an adulterous way with the child present at times, then --
THE COURT: Ask that question then. . . .
This shows Meigs meant to ask Henderson about adulterous behavior, but that's not what she asked. She didn't ask, "Did you have an adulterous and sexual relationship with Ms. Akl?" Even when the judge told her to ask that question, Meigs didn't ask it. Instead, she left the earlier question on the table: Did Henderson, during the time of his campaign, ever spend the night at Ms. Akl's apartment?
Can someone spend the night at someone's home without engaging in sexual or adulterous behavior? The answer, obviously, is yes. Could Henderson have slept on the couch, in a chair, on the floor? Of course. Is it any wonder Henderson might have been confused by Meigs' "fuzzy" question? Does this exchange, or anything else presented at trial, provide proof that Henderson answered Meigs' question falsely? Based on press accounts, the answer is no.
Let's consider the private-investigator's report that reportedly was entered as evidence. (A summary of the surveillance report, prepared by J. Hammock of Comprehensive Investigative Group, can be viewed here.) In a synopsis on page 2, the PI states, "I find activities consistent with an extra-marital relationship between Yareima Akl and Charles Todd Henderson." Does evidence in the report support that finding, beyond a reasonable doubt? Not even close. Consider:
(1) The PI states, on July 23, 2016, he began surveillance at 5:45 p.m. and observed Henderson's vehicle at Akl's apartment complex, terminating surveillance at 10 p.m. During this time, the PI does not report seeing Henderson, just his vehicle.
The PI reports that surveillance continued at 9 a.m. the next day (July 24), and about 1:25 later, Henderson was spotted leaving Akl's apartment, with Akl and two other people. The PI followed them to a function at a church and then at a restaurant, following them back to Akl's apartment Surveillance was terminated at 5 p.m.
The Skinny: There is more than a 15-hour gap from when the PI saw Henderson's vehicle and when the PI saw Henderson himself. This is supposed to prove Henderson spent the night? The question is absurd on its face.
(2) Surveillance continued on Aug. 6, 2016, from 5 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., with Henderson's vehicle observed in the parking lot of Akl's apartment, and Henderson driving Akl's vehicle, and entering and exiting the residence.
Surveillance continued at 4:15 a.m. the next day (Aug. 7), with both vehicles observed in the same positions as the night before, both covered in dew. Surveillance ended at 11 a.m.
The Skinny: There is almost a four-hour gap between the end of the Aug. 6 surveillance and the beginning of observations on Aug. 7. Does this prove Henderson spent the night? Does it preclude the possibility that he went home and returned the next morning, with or without dew on his car? Of course not.
(3) Observations continued at 6:30 a.m. the next day (Aug. 8), with the PI noting the same parking positions as presented at 11 a.m. the day before.
The Skinny: There is a gap of more than 19 hours in the surveillance. But this is supposed to prove Henderson spent the night? Did we mention this case is absurd?
(4) Observations continued at 7 p.m. on Sept. 2, with Henderson and Akl arriving in his vehicle at about 9:20 p.m. Akl enters her apartment, and Henderson leaves the area.
Surveillance continued from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. the next day (Sept. 3), with no observations reported.
The Skinny: Why did the PI even include this entry? It plainly shows Henderson did not spend the night. This entry should be an embarrassment to PIs everywhere? Somebody actually paid money for this? (BTW, who did pay for the surveillance? I see no explanation of that.)
(5) Observations continued from 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Sept. 16, showing no activity involving Henderson and Akl.
The next day (Sept. 17) surveillance and "activity checks" are conducted throughout the day, with Akl observed exiting a truck and entering the residence (closing blinds and turning off interior lighting) at 8:25 p.m. Simultaneously, Henderson exited the truck and entered the apartment, with lighting turned back on. Surveillance was terminated at 1 a.m.
At 7:15 a.m. the next day (Sept. 18), Henderson is observed leaving the apartment in the truck.
The Skinny: There is more than a six-hour gap in surveillance. Did Henderson have plenty of time to leave the residence and return? Of course. Does this entry prove he spent the night? Of course not.
(6) On the morning of Sept. 23, Akl is observed dropping her minor child at school and returning home. A "sweep" of the apartment parking lot showed Henderson's vehicle was present at 9:20 a.m.
The Skinny: What does this prove about the issue at hand -- spending the night? Nothing that we can discern.
(7) Observations are continued at 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 23, Henderson's truck is spotted, but Henderson is not seen -- and neither is Akl, nor her vehicle.
Surveillance continues at 5:30 a.m. the next day (Nov. 24). Akl and her child are observed taking out trash, watering plants, and leaving the area in Henderson's vehicle. They are tracked to apartments in Hoover and return at 9:08 p.m., with an additional juvenile female. Henderson is not observed.
The Skinny: Henderson is not seen, so this clearly provides no evidence of spending the night.
What do we learn from these seven surveillance entries? Mainly, we learn that PIs must lead a pretty boring existence. We don't learn of any proof that Henderson spent the night at Akl's apartment. And we certainly receive no evidence of a romantic relationship. Were Henderson and Akl reported holding hands, kissing, hugging? No, no, and no.
Finally, we look briefly at witnesses who testified at trial.
Tom Coram, an investigator for the attorney general's office, testified about phone records he analyzed between Henderson and Akl. If anything, this testimony suggests the two did NOT spend much time together at her apartment. Why would they be talking on the phone if they were together, under the same roof?
Two expert witnesses, Gary Lee Bloom and Jacqueline Morette, testified about the duties of a guardian ad litem (GAL) in a divorce case. Both essentially stated that Henderson did a poor job as GAL in the Akl divorce matter. Being a bad GAL, however, is not a crime. Even if it were, Henderson was not charged with it. Did Bloom or Morette present any testimony about the matter at hand -- Henderson's alleged perjury? Based on press reports, the answer is no.
Patricia Stephens, judge in the Akl divorce case, testified that she would not have appointed Henderson as GAL if she had known he and Ms. Akl were friends. Did she say anything about Henderson's supposedly false statement about spending the night? Based on press reports the answer is no. Is it possible, Henderson was less-than-forthcoming regarding his GAL appointment? Yes. Is that a crime? Nope.
That prosecutors called these witnesses is a sign of how weak a case they had.
What does our review of the facts show in the Henderson case?
(1) He was not asked about a romantic or sexual relationship with Ms. Akl, so he could not have lied about it.
(2) A private investigator's report did not come close to proving that Henderson lied about the real matter at hand -- whether he spent the night at Ms. Akl's residence. Based on the PI's report, there is overwhelming doubt that Henderson lied about the one factual issue in the case.
(3) Based on press reports, no witness produced the slightest evidence that Henderson swore falsely on the question at the heart of the prosecution. In fact, it appears no witness testimony was connected to perjury at all.
What about the relevant law in the Henderson case? That brings us to the question of whether Henderson's supposedly false statement was material to the underlying divorce case. We will examine that issue next.
(To be continued)