Missouri woman jailed for 35 years after unfair trial is finally granted clemency and released

A lot of things went wrong for Judy Henderson in 1981. First, her boyfriend killed the man they were robbing, and then set her up to take the fall. Various mishaps in the trial meant that she stood no chance right from the start


                            Missouri woman jailed for 35 years after unfair trial is finally granted clemency and released

In 1982, now-68-year-old Judy Henderson was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years for her role in a robbery-turned-murder of a jeweler in Springfield. Now, after having served 35 years and 111 days of her sentence, Governor Eric Greitens, who only took office this January, has commuted her sentence and made her a free woman.

According to the press release from the governor's office, Missouri's Probation and Parole Board had recommended that the governor grant Henderson clemency and commute her sentence to allow for the possibility of parole on three separate occasions in 2004, 2007, and 2013, but that none had been taken into consideration.

None among Bob Holden (D), who was Missouri's governor in 2004, Matt Blunt (R), who served as governor in 2007, and Jay Nixon (D), who was Missouri's governor in 2013, saw it fit to grant her request.


 


But now, she's finally a free woman. Several of her family members made the trip to the Chillicothe Correctional Center for her release, and according to reports, Henderson could be seen crying as she took her first steps of freedom. She could be heard joking to her friends who were still inside: "That was fun girls!"

In a phone interview with News-Leader, she described the feeling as 'overwhelming,' saying: "If it wasn't for the support of my family and friends who have hung in there for all of these almost 36 years, I don't know if I could have done it."   She also said that she couldn't hold back her tears when she saw that the governor himself had come to her release: "I instantly started crying and I fell to my knees. I was so honored and humbled that someone of that stature would take the time to come here."

Henderson was tried for murder in 1981 (Source: Missouri Governor's Office)

In 1981, Henderson and her then-boyfriend Greg Kruzen lured jeweler Harry Klein away from his store in Springfield with the intent to rob him. At her boyfriend's direction, she had met Klein and persuaded him to go with her to the outskirts of town, where Kruzen would then join them. When the jeweler refused to hand over a ring and other valuables he was carrying, Kruzen shot him three times, killing him.

Henderson did not know that her boyfriend had brought a gun with him, with one of the gunshots hitting her in the abdomen and injuring her. She and her boyfriend were subsequently captured and put on trial. It was here that some shady dealings by Kruzen and unethical behavior by her defense lawyer would see her unfairly handed a life sentence for a crime the trial judge stated she was a 'relatively minor participant' in.

She did not get a fair trial (Source: Missouri Department of Corrections)

Henderson went to trial first, with the same attorney, James McCullin, representing both her and Kruzen. She had requested McCullin to seek a plea deal with the prosecutor for a lesser charge. In return, she would testify to the court that it was Kruzen who shot the gun. Around the same time, the prosecutor had also offered McCullin a similar deal for the same exchange that would have seen Henderson serve just 10 years in prison.

Lawyers are required to tell their clients of any offers of settlement, but McCullin would not inform Henderson of his exchange. Instead, he would tell her that the prosecutor had not taken up her offer while telling the prosecutor that she had not taken up his. The trial would proceed and then become even murkier.

She had false testimony given against her (Source: Missouri Department of Corrections)

To prevent her from testifying, her boyfriend and McCullin paid four prison inmates $2,500 each to lie under oath that Henderson had confessed to acting alone. Because this false testimony lined up against her so well, the prosecution never called her up as a witness during her boyfriend's trial. He was found not guilty and would walk out a free man, and is now reportedly living somewhere in Oklahoma.

As for Henderson, she would be convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years.

While most would spend their time brooding, Henderson decided to make the best of her time in prison. Her accomplishments behind bars now include earning her GED, earning more than 100 hours of college credit, becoming a group exercise instructor, participating in the Puppies for Parole program, learning CPR, and serving as the president of the group Realistic Encounters About Life in Prison.

She also became a leader in various programs that help inmates connect with their families and donated $6,000 that she raised with her inmates to a local battered woman's shelter.

She was told of her release personally by Governor Greitens (Source: Twitter)

Governor Greitens met with Henderson personally to tell her the news of her commuted sentence and said: "Commuting Judy Henderson’s sentence to time served — more than 35 years — is the right thing to do."

Those sentiments where echoed by Greene County Judge Thomas Mountjoy, who has handled thousands of cases in his career and was her prosecutor at the time. According to a report by the Riverfront Times, Mountjoy said: "I handled thousands of criminal cases during my time as a prosecutor. Judy’s case is the first time I have supported clemency for someone I prosecuted."

This clemency has been three decades in the making (Source: Twitter)

The clemency what Henderson's attorney Bob Ramsey has been working towards for the last three decades, trying to right McCullin's wrongs. When the case was back in court last year, Ramsey had asked the court to retroactively apply a plea agreement that was offered to McCullin. He says he finally got the call from the governor's office on Tuesday night telling him to be at the correctional facility on Wednesday.

Speaking about the commute, he said: "It's been one of those good days you always kind of dream about having when you start law school. I am so encouraged that this governor and his staff were committed to correcting what I thought was a terrible injustice," Ramsey said. "To me, that just shows a commitment to fairness and righting wrongs. I am just very impressed with that."


 


The decision to commute Henderson's sentence was also praised by members of both parties. Following her release, state representative Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette, tweeted: "Thank you for doing the right thing Governor Greitens."


 


State representative Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters tweeted that his constituent, attorney Shannon Norman, "worked very hard on this commutation." He also tweeted: "Thank you to our governor for taking action on this important issue. I hope to work on broader criminal justice reform in coming session!"

For Henderson, this must seem like a Christmas miracle. She was a mom when she went to prison, and now, comes out as a grandmom. She wants to enjoy the simple pleasures in life and says her plan now is to move in with her daughter in the Kansas City area and work as a personal trainer. Her first meal after she was released? Fresh fruit and vegetables, with Henderson commenting that it was 'awesome' to eat a strawberry once again.

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