Jurors sentence convicted double murderer to death

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

Paul Jackson Henry III showed no emotion as a jury of six women and six men sentenced him to death for the murders of Danielle Taylor and Foday Cheeks.

"I sentence you to be handed over to the Department of Corrections and that you be confined until proper date for execution can be scheduled and at that time for you to suffer the death penalty," presiding Common Pleas Judge Michael E. Bortner told Henry the afternoon of Thursday, May 24.

Paul Henry III

Bortner imposed a consecutive 10 to 20 years in prison on Henry's robbery charge, acknowledging that sentence is in the aggravated range.

"The shooting itself was so horrific it warrants an aggravated-range sentence," the judge told defense attorneys Suzanne Smith and Farley Holt.

Attorneys react: York County District Attorney Dave Sunday was somber as he left the courtroom.

"There's nothing we can do to turn back the hands of time ... and right all the wrongs and put families and lives back together," he said.

"I was shocked, stunned and dismayed that (jurors) came back (with the guilty verdict) in 90 minutes," Holt told The York Dispatch. "There's no possible way they could have reviewed all the evidence. I expect a lot of them already had their minds made up before they even (began deliberating)."

Danielle Taylor

Holt said based on how quickly jurors found Henry guilty, he wasn't surprised they chose to send him to death row. It took jurors about 3 hours and 20 minutes to determine Henry's punishment.

A gag order issued by Bortner prohibited attorneys and witnesses from speaking with the media during the trial.

Victim Danielle Taylor's older brother, Bob Sterner, said he's been "waiting to hear those five words: 'We sentence you to death.'"

"We both wanted that," Taylor's mother, Deborah Taylor of Spring Grove, added.

No closure: Sterner dismissed any idea of closure for his family.

"We got a bad man off the street," he said. "It's not going to bring her back. It's not going to fix the hole in my heart."

But at least Henry will spend the rest of his life in a 6-foot-by-6-foot death-row cell, Sterner said.

It's the same jury that on Tuesday found Henry guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of robbery for the Sept. 13, 2016, Fawn Township home invasion.

Henry, 41, of East Manchester Township, stood trial alone in York County Court because wife and former co-defendant Veronique Henry hanged herself in York County Prison two days after the Sept. 13, 2016, murders, and one day after state police captured the Henrys in Dauphin County following a police chase.

On Thursday, first assistant district attorney Jen Russell asked jurors to set aside sympathy for Henry's family and make their decision based on the facts.

"All of the mitigating circumstances the defense presented to you? ... It pales in comparison to the gravity of the aggravating circumstances that the commonwealth has proved to you beyond a reasonable doubt," Russell told jurors.

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

How it works: In Pennsylvania, prosecutors must prove aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt for jurors to impose death. The state has a list of what can be considered aggravators, and prosecutors can't come up with their own.

Conversely, the defense must only prove mitigating circumstances by a preponderance of the evidence, according to state law, which is a lower standard than reasonable doubt.

Mitigators can be anything the defense chooses. In this case, defense attorney Smith provided jurors with a list of 38 possible mitigators, including that he was a mentor, role model, father figure and a cheerleader to family.

And as Smith stressed in her closing argument, each individual juror could find any mitigating circumstance he or she chose.

"You don't have to explain it to each other, you don't have to justify it to anybody," she said. "That's for you to decide. Anything. And no one can tell you that's wrong."

Aggravators: Russell cited three aggravators during her closing argument, and the first was stipulated to by the defense — that Henry was convicted of committing two murders.

Veronique Henry
(Photo courtesy of Facebook)

The prosecution's other two proposed aggravating circumstances were that Henry murdered Taylor, 26, and Cheeks, 31, during the perpetration of another felony and that while committing the murders he knowingly placed another person or people at grave risk of death.

Smith asked the jury to spare Henry's life.

"He can still do things for his family, for his friends," she said.

Other case dropped: After Henry's death sentence was imposed, prosecutors withdrew all charges in his other case, including aggravated assault and fleeing police.

The wanted murderer spurred a police chase on Route 322 in Dauphin County two days after the murders, state police said. During the chase he rammed an unmarked cruiser while being pursued by two marked cruisers.

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)

Testimony revealed Veronique Henry was a heroin addict and that while she and her husband were split up earlier in 2016 she became sexually involved with Cheeks and moved in with him. Cheeks was her heroin dealer.

Sunday said that while the Henrys stormed into Cheeks' home to rob him of cash and drugs, Paul Henry's real motive was rage.

The Henrys let four eyewitnesses who were sitting in the living room — two women and two teenage boys — live, despite all four having seen their faces.

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