Henderson has been a passionate and effective advocate for indigent capital defendants in North Carolina and across the country. He was the director of the North Carolina Resource Center from 1990-1995 and founded the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. After stepping down to join a civil rights firm, he continued to play an important role in the capital defense community. Most recently, Henderson was named Executive Director of the Eighth Amendment Project, which will help coordinate litigation strategies as well as drive legislation and policy, communications, grassroots organizing, and electoral strategy around capital punishment.
Winning the “unwinnable” cases
Henderson is best known for prevailing in seemingly unwinnable cases. He won life sentences in several high-profile cases, including:
- Brian Nichols in Fulton County, Georgia, who was on trial for the murders of a sitting judge, court reporter, sheriff’s sergeant, and federal agent. Henderson led the Nichols defense through jury selection and a highly publicized five-month trial, which brought him national acclaim.
- Kenneth Junior French, who was charged with killing four people and wounding six at a Fayetteville restaurant.
- Rodriguez Ferguson, who was charged with killing five people in Hoke County.
- Tim Allen, who was charged with killing a state highway patrol officer during a traffic stop on I-95.
Post-conviction and the heartbreak of execution
Henderson has also represented numerous individuals on direct appeal and in post-conviction. Several people were removed from death row because of his work:
- He won clemency for Anson Maynard in 1992 after uncovering evidence that led Gov. Martin to question Maynard’s guilt.
- John Oliver had his death sentence reversed in 1994 after Henderson proved that the state withheld significant evidence.
- He presented compelling evidence of ineffective assistance at trial that led to Jay Hardy’s removal from death row in 2005.
Henderson also experienced the pain of clients who were executed:
- Despite national attention and Henderson’s work that helped uncover evidence of David Junior Brown’s innocence, as well as the prosecution’s racist tactics, Brown was executed for the killings of a Moore County woman and her daughter.
- Henderson represented Elias Syriani, who was executed for the murder of his wife despite a remarkable clemency effort. That effort brought about a reconciliation between Syriani and his children, who had been estranged for many years.
Leadership in capital defense
Henderson has been a leader and mentor for many in the capital defense community, including fellows from the Fair Trial Initiative, the organization that created the Osborn Award. He has served on North Carolina’s Indigent Defense Services Commission, as well as the the CDPL Board.
CDPL is proud to revive the Osborn Award and to bestow it on such a worthy recipient. Like Kirk Osborn, Henderson is a fierce advocate and defender of his clients who honors and respects every contribution made to the defense of the client. He has dedicated his life to the honorable and difficult work of capital defense—and has done it remarkably well.