SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Utah issued a statement Thursday responding to questions about whether a man who allegedly shot and killed a Unified police officer was released from prison early despite new charges and a history of evading parole requirements.
U.S. Attorney John Huber said Thursday that his office "did not object" to a federal judge's decision in December to allow the release of Cory Lee Henderson from the Utah State Prison, in accordance with an order from Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, despite new federal drug and firearm charges against him.
"Our federal judges in Utah are thoughtful, careful and have the best of intentions as they make difficult decisions. In this matter, the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not object to the judge’s ultimate pretrial detention decision," Huber said in his statement.
Police say Henderson shot and killed Unified police officer Doug Barney on Sunday while the officer was trying to track him down following a traffic accident. Henderson also allegedly shot and injured Unified police officer Jon Richey in an ensuing gunfight with police.
Henderson was released from prison on Dec. 8, a move that drew criticism this week from a recently retired Adult Probation and Parole officer who says newly instituted recidivism programs give little thought to the safety of police officers.
Utah Board of Pardons and Parole spokesman Greg Johnson said this week that the board, which finalized Henderson's release Dec. 8, was unaware of new federal charges filed against Henderson Nov. 24. That information would have been "critical" to the board, Johnson said, though he was unsure whether it would have changed its decision.
Huber said Thursday it was impossible to foresee with any certainty Henderson's violent outburst against police.
"Federal judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys make decisions on detention issues every day. In each of these cases, those involved take their duties seriously and use their best judgment in balancing competing interests," he said. "While it is valuable and necessary to assess what happened and identify ways we can all do our jobs better, hindsight is 20/20. We would all do things differently knowing what we now know."
In light of Barney's death, which has rocked the Unified Police Department, Huber asked for understanding among all parties involved in Henderson's journey through the justice system.
"Once we have had time to honor the two Unified Police Department officers and support their families, we intend to focus our energy on making sure we learn from this tragic situation," Huber said. “In the emotional aftermath of these shootings, may we remember there is only one person to blame — the fugitive who committed these heinous crimes.”
Although he didn't specifically promise a formal evaluation into the U.S. Attorney's Office's role in Henderson's status, Huber said, "those of us involved in the criminal justice profession will join others in the coming weeks to review the circumstances surrounding this tragedy."
Despite absconding from his parole in early 2015, just two months after being released from prison on a felony firearms charge, Henderson was granted parole on Nov. 4 because he wasn't considered a threat to public safety under the state Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which went into effect Oct. 1.
The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole gave Henderson about another month in prison, which was the other option besides an immediate release under the new initiative.