Double murderer escapes death penalty, sentenced to life in prison
Paul Jackson Henry III was sentenced Friday to two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole for the murders of Danielle Taylor and Foday Cheeks in 2016 and an additional 10 to 20 years for robbery.
Common Pleas Judge Michael E. Bortner determined the new sentence after he was required to throw out a jury's previous death sentence due to a procedural error in the jury process.
Bortner said Friday the court "cannot imagine the terror suffered" by the victims and the four survivors who were left alive at the house where the murders took place.
Henry attended the proceeding by video conference from York County Prison, but his attorneys, Suzanne Smith and Farley Holt, were present in the court room.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Scott McCabe prosecuted the case.
When Henry first joined the video call and could be seen in the court room, his mother, Renee Henry, called out, "Hi Bud," but his attorneys said he wouldn't be able to hear her.
Bortner said he considered both the aggravating and mitigating circumstances of the case in his decision about whether Henry should, again, be sentenced to death.
One aggravating circumstance was that Henry killed Cheeks in the presence of two minors, one of whom considered Cheeks to be a father figure, the judge said.
Henry also indiscriminately fired bullets that hit one of the walls near the four survivors, Bortner said.
And Henry appeared to be searching for drugs during the crime, Bortner said, because when he entered the house, he asked witnesses, "Where's the s--t," apparently referring to drugs.
As for the mitigating circumstances, Bortner said Henry has had no disciplinary write-ups during his time in custody, and had no criminal history before committing the murders.
Henry served in the in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years until he was honorably discharged, Bortner said.
And after the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Bortner said Henry, who happened to be in New York City at the time, volunteered to stay behind and help with recovery efforts.
Bortner also spoke about Henry's work as a contractor and said he'd helped clients in need at no charge, made sure his staff were always paid before himself and hired an employee who had a criminal history and couldn't find other work, which allowed the employee to become a contributing member of society.
The judge also said Henry may have been acting under duress from drug addiction when he committed the murders and that he may have been under the impression that his wife was having an affair with Cheeks.
"We'll never know what prompts someone to act so out of character," Bortner said.
But Bortner also said the court would be derelict in its duty if it didn't remember the victims and how their lives and their families' lives were impacted by Henry's crimes.
Danielle Taylor's only mistake was her bad choice of friends, Bortner said. And he said that despite Cheeks' drug offenses, he was still a part of the community with family and friends who cared about him.
"Nothing I do here today will make up for your loss," he said to members of Taylor's family who were in the gallery.
A man who was there for Taylor left the court room after Bortner announced the new sentence, and a representative from the York County District Attorney's Victim/Witness Unit said Taylor's family did not wish to comment on the proceedings.
Henry declined to make a statement to the court.
Even if Bortner had sentenced Henry to death, it's unclear when, or if, the sentence would have been carried out, as Gov. Tom Wolf placed a moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania in 2015.
Smith and Holt said they intend to appeal Henry's conviction. Holt said there were some "unkosher" things that went on with the jury during the trial. He did not elaborate.
Henry will remain in York County Prison for 60 days at the request of his attorneys so they can consult with him more easily than if he were remanded to a state prison, due to the COVID-19 mitigation restrictions.
History: A jury found Henry guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of robbery on May 22, 2018.
He broke into the Fawn Township home of alleged heroin dealer Foday Cheeks on Sept. 13, 2016.
He shot both Cheeks, 31, and Danielle Elizabeth Taylor, 26, to death, before robbing four other people in the home and fleeing.
Henry's late wife, convicted heroin dealer Veronique Aundrea Henry, 32, was with him during the home invasion and murder and during the subsequent police chase that ended with their arrests.
She hanged herself at York County Prison shortly after being taken into custody.