Double murderer back in York County Court, trying to avoid death penalty

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
Paul Henry III

A York County judge said he will soon decide whether convicted Fawn Township home-invasion double murderer Paul Jackson Henry III should spend the rest of his life in prison, or whether he should be sentenced to death.

In April, presiding Common Pleas Judge Michael E. Bortner ruled that Henry's death sentence — originally handed down in May 2018 by the jury that found him guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and robbery —  had to be thrown out because of a procedure issue.

Because of that, Henry needs to be resentenced. Both the prosecution and defense agreed to allow Bortner to make that decision himself, rather than empanel a new jury.

In 2016, Henry and his wife, Veronique Henry, shot their way inside the home of heroin dealer Foday Cheeks, killing him and Danielle Taylor, a woman who was staying there. The couple then robbed four others inside — including two teens — of their cellphones so they couldn't call police but let them live.

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

Bortner presided over a brief resentencing hearing the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 4, during which both the prosecution and the defense asked the judge to consider everything already in the trial record.

The defense also called three witnesses on Wednesday — Henry's mother, sister and aunt. All three testified at Henry's first penalty-phase hearing.

Supportive of family: The women all said they rely on Henry for emotional support and advice through letters, calls, emails and prison visits.

Danielle Taylor

Both sides stipulated to one aggravating circumstance — that Henry killed more than one person — and two mitigating circumstances. They are that Henry has had no prison write-ups since being locked up in September 2016 and that he had no significant criminal history prior to the murders.

His mother, Renee Henry, testified she would "want to die" if she couldn't have contact with her oldest son.

"Because I know my son so well ... he did not commit these (murders)," she said.

More:Double murderer's loved ones testify his children need him

More:York County judge throws out double murderer's death sentence

Judge Bortner told Renee Henry that the hearing was only for resentencing, not to revisit whether her son is guilty. She and the judge then simply looked at each other for a moment.

"Mom, that's enough please," Henry said quietly from the defense table. "It's all right."

The family of murder victim Taylor also were in court Wednesday but weren't called to testify about how their lives have been affected by Taylor's murder.

Bob Sterner, Taylor's brother, said his family will attend Henry's next hearing, in which Bortner will impose sentence.

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, 2016, Fawn Township home invasion during which Henry fatally shot Taylor, 26, and heroin dealer Cheeks, 31.

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

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

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.

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)

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.

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

The reason the death sentence was thrown out 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.

The stipulated mitigating factors were the same as those discussed in court Wednesday — that Henry had no prior criminal convictions and that he had no prison misconduct write-ups.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.

Veronique Henry and Paul Henry in happier times.