Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Charles Todd Henderson, who should be Jefferson Co. district attorney, lands in jail, based on evidence that falls way short of "beyond a reasonable doubt"

Charles Todd Henderson
Just when you think Alabama courts can't get more corrupt, along comes the prosecution of Charles Todd Henderson.

Henderson, a Democrat, was elected as Jefferson County district attorney in November 2016. No one seriously disputes that he won the election fair and square. But two problems lurked beneath the surface: (1) Henderson had the audacity to defeat Republican incumbent Brandon Falls, the favored son of the crooked Riley political machine; (2) After winning, Henderson publicly stated that he intended to make public-corruption cases a top priority during his term as DA. That sounded like he had the Rileys in his cross hairs.

Three weeks later, Attorney General Luther Strange -- a Riley acolyte -- indicted Henderson for perjury related to his role as guardian ad litem in a divorce case. Prosecutors did not prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt -- not even close -- but Henderson was convicted, largely thanks to actions by Sibley Reynolds, one of the state's most corrupt judges who was specially appointed to hear the case. In fact, Reynolds clearly violated courtroom procedure, which should guarantee the Henderson conviction is overturned. But that assumes the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals has integrity, and one never can make such an assumption about an Alabama court.

Henderson received a six-month sentence late last week, and he spent a few days in the Jefferson County Jail, pending an appeal bond. Records indicate he has been released, even though his photo still appears at the jail Web site.

We've written multiple posts to show the Henderson indictment was bogus, and the trial produced a wildly wrongheaded result. (See here, here, and here.) We've also shown that coverage in the Alabama press has been wretched -- inaccurate, incomplete, one-sided -- about as bad as "journalism" can get.

For now, let's focus on one element of the case -- and our examination of this issue will show the whole proceeding was a sham. The case revolves around Henderson's role as guardian ad litem in a divorce case involving Yareima Akl, who had worked on Henderson's campaign. Here is how we set the stage in an Oct. 24, 2017 post:

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?

A No.

Q No?

A No.

It has been widely reported that Henderson's conviction was based on a question about a "romantic" or "adulterous" relationship with Ms. Akl, and his answer of "no." But as you can see above, he was asked if he had "spent the night" at Ms. Akl's apartment. He never was asked about a relationship -- romantic, adulterous, or otherwise.

So when Henderson answered "no" about having "spent the night" at Ms. Akl's apartment, was that answer false, amounting to perjury? The prosecution certainly did not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. First, a private investigator's surveillance report included huge gaps -- four hours, five hours, 15 hours, 19 hours -- when the PI had no clue about Henderson's whereabouts.

Let's examine the PI's evidence against Henderson:

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.

The best the prosecution could do was a statement that found "activities consistent with an extramarital relationship"? That's supposed to meet the burden of "beyond a reasonable doubt"? Don't make me laugh.

Imagine this scenario: A bank has been robbed, and Security Chief Fred Overlook is called to testify about his analysis of surveillance tapes that supposedly show the defendant, one Herman Bloakes, robbing the bank. Here is the exchange between Chief Overlook and Mr. Bloakes' defense attorney, Billem Bythehour:

Bythehour: So, Mr. Overlook, what does your analysis of the tapes show?

Overlook: I find activities consistent with Mr. Bloakes, your client, robbing the bank?

Bythehour: Did you see Mr. Bloakes using a weapon for a "stick-up"?

Overlook: No.

Bythehour: Did you see him confronting a teller or other bank official to demand money?

Overlook: No.

Bythehour: Did you see him grab cash or anything else of value and leave the bank?

Overlook: No.

Bythehour: So did my client actually rob the bank?

Overlook: I have no idea. But his actions were consistent with robbing a bank.

As you probably can tell, the Bloakes scenario is my version of a joke -- and some might consider it a pretty bad joke. But it's no more of a joke than was the Charles Todd Henderson case.

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