Governor Commutes Sentence of Woman, 68, After She Served 35 Years in Prison

Judy Henderson
Judy Henderson was sentenced to 50 years to life in 1982 for what even the trial judge at the time called her "relatively minor” role in a robbery-turned-murder.Missouri Governor's Office

Judy Henderson was sentenced in 1982 for her "relatively minor” role in a robbery-turned-murder.

A Missouri convict is now a free woman after the state governor commuted her lengthy sentence after 35 years behind bars.

Judy Henderson was sentenced to 50 years to life in 1982 for what even the trial judge at the time called her "relatively minor” role in a robbery-turned-murder.

Governor Eric Greitens commuted Henderson’s sentence on Wednesday to time served.

Greitens reached the decision after he and his counsel reviewed thousands of pages of reports, court transcripts, letters, and records related to Henderson’s case, the governor's office said in a statement.

The governor’s legal team met with Henderson and her attorneys and conferred with legal ethics experts and the prosecutor who handled the case.

“Commuting Judy Henderson’s sentence to time served — more than 35 years — is the right thing to do,” Greitens said.

Now 68, Henderson was never accused of actually carrying out the killing of Missouri jeweler Harry Klein.

Henderson was, however, prevented from testifying against her boyfriend — who was accused of pulling the trigger but later acquitted.

"The man who committed a robbery, fired a gun, killed someone, and shot Henderson herself in the process went free, while Henderson, now 68, has served 35 years in state prison," the statement from the governor's office read.

Greitens noted Wednesday that the judge at Henderson's trial said she played a "relatively minor" role in the crime. Supporters also said she received inadequate representation from her attorney.

Since the 1980s, Henderson has asked Missouri governors for clemency. The last three times the Board of Probation and Parole has considered requests from Henderson — in 2004, 2007, and 2013 — they recommended that the governor grant her clemency and commute her sentence to allow for the possibility a release to society.

In support of their recommendation, the board found all three times that she was not likely to re-offend.

During its review, the board Parole studied Henderson’s record. During her 35 years in prison, she obtained her GED and more than 100 hours of college credit. She received certifications or completed training as a paralegal, fitness instructor, hairdresser, and dog trainer. Over the decades she spent in prison, she became a leader in programs that connect inmates to their families and that give back to the community. Recently, she presented $6,000 raised by inmates to a local battered women’s shelter.

The former prosecutor who originally tried the case, Thomas Mountjoy, also supports the decision.

"I handled thousands of criminal cases during my time as a prosecutor. Judy’s case is the first time I have supported clemency for someone I prosecuted," Mountjoy said.