Teen who saw double murder: 'My life flashed before my eyes'

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

Jurors deciding the fate of alleged double-murderer Paul Jackson Henry III have now heard from all four people who survived the 2016 Fawn Township home invasion, and prosecutors told the judge they hope to rest their case Thursday afternoon.

On Wednesday, May 16, the prosecution called to the witness stand Coren Clymer, who lived at Foday Cheeks' Brown Road home, and Devon Fisher, a teenager who was visiting there with a friend.

State police said Foday Cheeks, 31, and Danielle Taylor, 26, were fatally shot inside 706 Brown Road in Fawn Township on Sept. 13, 2016.
(Photo by John Joyce)

Like the other two survivors — Amy Eller and her son, James Gregoire — Clymer and Fisher testified they watched Henry shoot Cheeks multiple times, then drag him out of view. Henry fired a final shot into Cheeks' head as Cheeks lay on the floor of his bedroom, where Henry had dragged him, according to testimony.

And like the other two survivors, Clymer and Fisher were cross-examined at length by defense attorneys Farley Holt and Suzanne Smith.

The defense has highlighted some inconsistencies in the four witnesses' statements, including that they don't remember things exactly the same way, that they didn't remember in detail what they told police the night of the homicides, and that one lied to police about her drug use and Cheeks being a drug dealer.

The foursome's key testimony jibes with the theory of the crime presented to jurors by first assistant district attorney Jen Russell during her opening statement.

Deadly home invasion: Shortly before 10 p.m. Sept. 13, 2016, Henry and wife Veronique Henry knocked on Cheeks' back door. Resident Danielle Taylor, 26, was fatally shot in the neck as she opened the door, Russell said.

Cheeks got up to investigate, at which point Henry fired six shots at Cheeks in the home's dining room, hitting Cheeks "center mass" with all six bullets, according to Russell.

Foday Cheeks was fatally shot inside his Fawn Township home during a robbery Sept. 13, 2016, police said.
(Photo courtesy of Facebook)

After dragging Cheeks out of the view of the eyewitnesses, Henry and his wife turned their attention to searching the home for drugs and money, according to testimony.

Now 19, Fisher was 17 at the time and was there with his friend James, who was 14. Earlier testimony incorrectly indicated Fisher was 16 at the time.

Fisher told jurors he dropped to the ground and put a blanket over himself as he saw Henry shoot Cheeks, after which Henry turned his attention to the foursome in the living room.

Clymer said she got on the floor but didn't hide behind curtains, as Eller previously testified.

"(Henry) comes out and tells us to get the f— down," Clymer testified.

"When he seen us, he said, 'f—' and walked back into the kitchen," Fisher said, but eventually the Henrys walked to where they could be seen from the living room.

That's when Henry ordered Fisher off the floor, the witness said.

Life flashed before him: "He made me get up and pick up all the phones," Fisher said, adding he did as he was told, then took the confiscated phones over to Henry but apparently got too close.

Paul Henry III

"He pointed his gun at me and told me to back up," Fisher testified. "My life flashed before my eyes. I didn't know if I was going to die or not. It was intense."

Henry was yelling at Eller, calling her a bad mother for taking kids to a heroin dealer's house, and also he and his wife were yelling at each other about being unable to find cash or drugs, according to Fisher.

"It looked like he was very frustrated," Fisher said.

All four eyewitnesses testified Veronique Henry told them they wouldn't be shot.

Clymer described Henry as frantic and angry and said Veronique Henry seemed anxious.

"First he says he's not a drug addict, then he asks where the drugs were," Clymer told jurors.

She said the Henrys also spoke about the four eyewitnesses having seen their faces.

"It was like, now they're going to have to kill us," Clymer testified.

Instead, the Henrys fled the scene after stealing the victims' cellphones and telling them to wait 20 minutes before leaving, according to testimony.

'Twisting' her words? During a rigorous hourlong cross-examination, Clymer clashed with Holt as he asked her detailed questions and made her admit she lied to police about her drug use and Cheeks' drug-dealing.

Danielle Taylor, 26, of Spring Grove, was fatally shot inside a Fawn Township home during a home-invasion robbery on Sept. 13, 2016.

"Now you're twisting what I'm saying," she told Holt at one point. The two bickered back and forth.

Presiding Common Pleas Judge Michael E. Bortner interceded in the clashes several times, at one point admonishing them that "this conversation between you two is of no value to the jury."

Fisher was cross-examined for an hour by Smith and was polite and respectful to her, answering "yes ma'am" and "no ma'am," but he eventually appeared frustrated with her questioning his memory and prior statements.

"You never had a gun held at you or seen two people die," he told Smith.

A few minutes later, under redirect by York County District Attorney Dave Sunday, Fisher said he was nervous about having to testify in front of the man he'd watched kill someone.

About the residents: Clymer, now 25, testified she and Taylor had moved into Cheeks' home after living in motels. She said Cheeks and Taylor were "hooking up."

Cheeks didn't use drugs but sold heroin and crack cocaine, according to Clymer, who said she and Taylor did use those drugs. Clymer said she had a serious heroin addiction at the time but is sober now.

Clymer testified Veronique Henry lived with Cheeks earlier in 2016 and was sexually involved with him.

Veronique Henry stole $700 from Cheeks, which was supposedly the reason she was coming to his home that day — to pay him back, Clymer testified.

Veronique Henry

Veronique Henry was a heroin addict and convicted heroin dealer. She hanged herself in York County Prison a day after she and her husband were captured, officials have said.

Also testifying Wednesday was Dr. Rameen Starling-Roney, the forensic pathologist who performed autopsies on Cheeks and Taylor.

He said Cheeks was shot eight times, including in the heart and the head, and died of multiple gunshot wounds. Taylor's single gunshot wound to the neck was fatal, the pathologist said, but it likely would have taken her several minutes to die.

Death penalty: Henry, 41, of East Manchester Township, is charged with two counts each of first-, second- and third-degree murder, plus robbery. He's also charged with fleeing police and aggravated assault for a police chase the next day that ended with the Henrys being arrested.

If jurors convict him of first-degree murder, prosecutors will ask them to impose the death penalty.

At the time of his death, Cheeks was free on $25,000 bail, charged with two felony counts of dealing heroin.

Judge Bortner has issued a gag order that prevents attorneys and others involved in the case from speaking publicly about the case.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.