The Open File has obtained a copy of a pending bar complaint against Shelby County prosecutor Thomas Henderson for his role in the wrongful conviction of Michael Rimmer. You may recall our previous post about Rimmer’s case, which involved a 1997 murder for which Rimmer’s conviction was overturned on account of the State of Tennessee’s failure to disclose a witness identification of an alternative suspect.
A Tennessee attorney filed a complaint against assistant district attorney Thomas Henderson in November 2012 following the Tennessee District Court’s order that Rimmer’s conviction be vacated. The complaint, which was recently highlighted in a piece by Liliana Segura for The Nation, points out Henderson’s pattern of misconduct and his office’s failure to redress it.
As the complainant points out in her letter to the State Bar, Henderson’s concealment of evidence is particularly alarming given that Henderson has been involved in numerous capital cases. Indeed, Henderson is responsible for more than a third of the death sentences out of the state of Tennessee in the modern era of the death penalty. The complaint reads:Following Mr. Henderson’s deliberate misconduct in this capital murder case poses several issues for the Board. First, his purposeful suppression of exculpatory evidence and false statements regarding the existence of the exculpatory evidence are inexcusable in any case, but particularly when a man’s life is on the line. Second, Mr. Henderson has a pattern of suppressing exculpatory evidence in capital cases, in addition to other purposeful misconduct in death penalty trials. Third, this pattern has developed over many years and has gone uncorrected by the Shelby County District Attorney. Instead, the District Attorney has vigorously defended the misconduct and continued to permit Mr. Henderson to try capital cases.
The attorney who filed the complaint has plenty of fodder from District Court Judge James C. Beasley’s opinion, which concludes that Henderson not only suppressed evidence pertaining to an alternative suspect in the Rimmer case but lied to Rimmer’s attorneys by asserting that no such evidence existed. Ultimately, Judge Beasley found Henderson’s actions to be “blatantly false, inappropriate and ethically questionable.”
In addition to the Rimmer case, the complaining attorney points to Henderson’s misconduct in other cases such as that of Dan Jones, which ended in a mistrial in 2006 after it was found that Henderson had committed discovery violations and suppressed exculpatory evidence. In the case of Michael Sample, The Tennessee Supreme Court found that Henderson’s file was “replete with apparent exculpatory evidence” years after trial when it should have been made available to defense counsel. And in yet another case, a federal court “expressed concerns about whether Henderson suppressed exculpatory evidence.” The complainant also describes other forms of misconduct that Henderson has been found to engage in over his 20+ years career.