York County judge throws out double murderer's death sentence

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
Paul Henry III

A York County judge has thrown out the death sentence of convicted Fawn Township home-invasion double murderer Paul Jackson Henry III. His conviction, however, stands.

In 2013, Henry and his wife, Veronique Henry, shot their way inside the home of a heroin dealer, killing him and a woman who was staying there. The couple then robbed several others inside — including two teens — of their cellphones so they couldn't call police, but they let them live.

Veronique Henry killed herself in York County Prison two days after the murders of Foday Cheeks and Danielle Taylor.

In an April 8 order docketed on April 15 by the York County Clerk of Courts Office, presiding Common Pleas Judge Michael E. Bortner ruled that Henry's sentence had to be thrown out.

It notes that both the defense and prosecution had already agreed to that fact.

The judge issued a stay in Henry's resentencing hearing, "pending further proceedings to determine the limits of resentencing," the order states.

Bortner's order also states that double jeopardy doesn't apply, meaning Henry could legally be sentenced to death again.

The judge gave both sides a month to file briefs on whether mitigating evidence found by Henry's trial jury must be accepted and considered in his resentencing hearing.

More:Jurors sentence convicted double murderer to death

Defense pleased: Defense attorney Farley Holt said he's pleased with Bortner's ruling and is hoping prosecutors agree simply to stipulate to the trial evidence and let Bortner decide whether to impose the death penalty or to sentence Henry to life in prison without parole.

Danielle Taylor

The other two choices would be either for a new jury to be empaneled, hear evidence and decide Henry's fate, or for Henry to accept prosecutors' offer of life in prison in exchange for him giving up all future appeal rights.

Kyle King, spokesman for the York County District Attorney's Office, said prosecutors are still considering their options.

"We have discussed the possibility of stipulating to the evidence and ... allowing the judge to render a verdict regarding the penalty phase," he said. "However, no decisions have been made at this time."

More:York County double murderer's death sentence to be thrown out

The background: A York County jury on May 22, 2018, found Henry guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of robbery for the Sept. 13, 2013, Fawn Township home invasion during which Henry fatally shot Danielle Taylor, 26, and heroin dealer Foday Cheeks, 31.

Veronique Henry, 32, also was arrested and charged with the murders of Taylor and Cheeks, who was her heroin dealer and former lover.

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

She hanged herself in York County Prison two days after the murders and a day after she and her husband were captured in Dauphin County after a police chase.

Henry blamed his dead wife for the crimes, but jurors decided he was guilty and that he should die for the offenses.

Henry's motive was rage, York County District Attorney Dave Sunday has said.

Trial testimony revealed Veronique Henry was a heroin addict who lived with and was sexually involved with Cheeks earlier in 2016, when she and her husband were temporarily split up.

Sunday has said that while the Henrys stormed into Cheeks' home to rob him of cash and drugs, Paul Henry's real motive was anger at his wife's ex-lover.

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.

Jury slip issue: The fact that Henry didn't kill the four eyewitnesses was the sole mitigating factor that jurors listed on his verdict sheet as a mitigating circumstance to why he shouldn't be put to death.

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)

However, they imposed the death penalty after agreeing that aggravating factors outweighed mitigating ones.

The reason the death sentence was vacated is because there were two mitigating factors to which both the prosecution and defense stipulated. That means the jury was required to consider them.

However, jurors didn't list the two stipulated mitigating factors on the jury slip — and that means there's no way to know whether the jury considered them as required by state law, according to attorney Suzanne Smith, who is jointly representing Paul Henry with Holt.

The stipulated mitigating factors were that Henry had no prior criminal convictions and that he had no misconduct write-ups while he was being held in York County Prison prior to trial.

Veronique Henry and Paul Henry in happier times.

"Since they did not write (the stipulated mitigators) down, we're arguing they didn't consider all the mitigating factors they were required to," Smith has said.

Starting over? Bortner has said that selecting a new jury to make the decision is "basically starting all over again."

Holt also has said selecting a new jury to decide whether Henry should get life or death "would basically result in retrying the majority of the case again," since the new jurors weren't present at the trial and would know nothing about the case.

Paul Henry III

First assistant district attorney Jen Russell has said it's unfortunate that the victims' loved ones cannot yet find a measure of closure but that it's "important that the letter of the law be followed exactly," especially in death penalty cases.

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