Did new program allow man who killed officer out of prison early?
SALT LAKE CITY — Cory Lee Henderson, 31, had built up a steady stream of arrests and convictions over the past decade.
But should the man who had an active warrant for his arrest when he shot and killed Unified police officer Doug Barney on Sunday before being shot and killed himself have been afforded as many opportunities as he was given to turn his life around?
At least one former Adult Probation and Parole officer says no. He says police officers are in greater danger today because of recent changes to Utah law aimed at keeping the population at the Utah State Prison low and getting more convicts, like Henderson, into treatment.
"Right now is the scariest time to be in law enforcement ’cause we're leaving these guys strung out. We're not keeping them in prison like we should be," Blake Woodring said.
"There's no thought to officer safety in these programs."
Woodring worked with Adult Probation and Parole for 23 years. He had originally planned to retire after 25 years but said he called it a career late last week because of his concern over two new programs: the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, and the Response and Incentive Matrix.
Henderson's latest criminal case may have qualified him for earlier release from prison under the new Justice Reinvestment Initiative guidelines because he was a drug offender who was considered to be a low risk to the community.
Both the matrix and the initiative took effect on Oct. 1.
The Response and Incentive Matrix was designed to both streamline sentencing guidelines for offenders and to reward offenders for their accomplishments to reinforce positive behavior. It established an updated matrix for offenders on how long they should be incarcerated based on their risk to society and recidivism rate. It also promises "swift" response to negative behavior to correct the action.
The Justice Reinvestment Initiative reduces the penalties for certain drug crimes.
“Our hearts and prayers are with the Barney family, and with all the families who have lost loved ones to these types of senseless acts," said Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, chairman of the Legislative Budget Committee that oversees criminal justice.
"It is our hope that Justice Reinvestment, when properly administered, will go a long way in helping to prevent tragedies like we saw this week that led to the death of one of our brave officers. JRI is designed to help the criminal justice system to identify those in custody who are a danger to society, and to focus valuable resources in the right places to expand incarceration programs and implement more aggressive and comprehensive supervision of those dangerous individuals."
"The intent is basically to continue holding offenders accountable and securing our communities — but in a way that takes into account individual risks and treatment needs," the Department of Corrections website says of the initiative.
"JRI is driven by data and outcomes, meaning all the efforts are being measured for effectiveness. The expectation is that JRI will reduce our incarceration and recidivism rates, resulting in savings for taxpayers. The criminal justice system as a whole is expected to move toward a system that incarcerates people who pose a risk or a threat to the community and treats those who struggle with addictions but otherwise pose little or no danger to our neighborhoods."
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Brooke Adams said that the initiative has nothing to do with Barney's death.
"We know some people are opposed to these changes, but we don't agree with them and are not going to blame the loss of this widely respected and loved officer on the system changes now underway," Adams said in a prepared statement. "We believe the evidence-based practices adopted here in Utah and nationwide offer our best hope for achieving a criminal justice system that ensures the right opportunities for rehabilitation while protecting public safety."
Peggy Holladay, Henderson's mother, described her son to the Deseret News as "a scared kid in a big boy's body." She admitted that her son "loved guns" and also battled addiction.
In 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2014 he was convicted of drug possession or possession of drug paraphernalia, according to state court records.
In 2005, Henderson was charged with felony theft by receiving stolen property. But the charge was later dismissed because Henderson was in federal custody in Colorado.
He was charged in federal court with possessing a sawed-off rifle with a serial number that had been filed off. Likewise, Henderson was charged about the same time in a separate case with drug and firearms-related offenses, all of which were dismissed in state court in lieu of the federal charges.
In 2009 he pleaded guilty to attempted drug possession, a charge that was reduced to a class A misdemeanor, and he received probation. He pleaded guilty to a similar charge in 2012.
In February of 2014, Henderson was sent to the Utah State Prison for being a restricted person in possession of a firearm. He was paroled after about a year.
Just two months later, in June 2015, a warrant was issued for his arrest for failing to comply with the conditions of his parole and for absconding. He was returned to prison in October.
On Nov. 4, a parole violation hearing was held at the Utah State Prison for Henderson. That's when the hearing officer, Alan Walker, noted that Henderson "falls under JRI," the Justice Reinvestment Initiative.
Henderson was not considered a public safety threat, making him eligible for the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. The parole board had the option, under the guidelines, of releasing Henderson immediately or holding him an additional 30 days, giving him a total of 60.
Because he had previously absconded, Walker recommended that he stay in prison for the full 60 days.
In a recorded copy of the hearing, Henderson asked Walker to allow him to go to the Fortitude Treatment Center, a Salt Lake halfway house, for transition.
"I feel like I need a little more structure," he said.
Walker sternly warned Henderson that if he didn't make changes to his life and take the opportunity seriously, he would end up in prison again for longer than two months.
A few weeks later, on Nov. 24, while still in the Utah State Prison, Henderson was indicted by a federal grand jury on new drug and firearm charges.
Utah Board of Pardons and Parole spokesman Greg Johnson said the board was unaware of that federal charge at the time. He doesn't know if it would have made a difference in the board's decision to release Henderson on Dec. 8, but he called it a "critical" piece of information they would have liked to have had.
On Dec. 8, Henderson was released to the Fortitude Treatment Center as ordered by the parole board. A federal judge gave him conditions for his release.
Ten days later, he checked out of the center in the morning, allegedly to look for a job, and never came back. He was put on a national database that would allow any officer to stop him. An arrest warrant was later issued on Dec. 21.
Less than a month later, Henderson murdered Barney by shooting him once in the head. Minutes earlier, Henderson had been involved in an automobile accident and walked away from the scene injured. Barney was looking for him and his female passenger in a Holladay neighborhood when he encountered Henderson and was killed.
Henderson was killed shortly afterward during an exchange of gunfire that also wounded Unified police officer Jon Richey.
Woodring, who was not directly involved in Henderson's supervision, said it's because of laws like the Justice Reinvestment Initiative that he decided to retire early.
"Sometimes people need to be in prison. No matter how much it costs, some people need to be in prison because they're a danger to the community. We're creating so many more victims and crimes because we're not sending these people back when they should be incarcerated," he said.
But Utah Department of Corrections officials support the new law.
"The awful reality is that law enforcement officers have always been and, unfortunately, will always be a target of senseless acts of violence. Every day, our fellow law enforcement officers go to work aware of this risk — a sacrifice for which we all feel immense gratitude," Adams said. "The trend of law enforcement officers being killed in higher numbers, not only across the country but here in Utah, began long before adoption of Justice Reinvestment reforms in October.
"As is standard protocol in these situations, we are reviewing the supervision and management of the offender involved in this event. We are more determined than ever to make our criminal justice system better and appreciate the efforts of our staff and partners who are joining us in this effort," she said.
Henderson's mother doesn't believe her son was ever given a good chance to succeed.
"They come out (of prison), don’t get a chance to get a job, and they get stuck going back to the same thing that they had before because there are no opportunities," Holladay said.
“Give them some options and stuff, have some classes in prison while they’re there so they can learn a trade, something that they like to do. Then when they come out, have something lined up so where there are jobs available for these guys, so they can go out and make a good decent paycheck, and stay busy and lead a normal life instead of being labeled," she said.
"That would be my wish, if I had a wish that could come true, because my son, I feel like he never got a chance."
Contributing: McKenzie Romero
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