Florida State Prisoner Robert Henry, 55, was pronounced dead at 6:16 PM, Thursday, March 20, 2014, following his execution via lethal chemical injection. His punishment comes nearly 27 years after he killed two of his female coworkers. Henry beat them with a hammer and then set them aflame, during a robbery altercation at the fabric store where the three worked together in November of 1987.
According to the testimony provided at the trial, after Cloth World was closed for the evening on November 2, 1987, Robert Henry attacked the women, Phyllis Harris, 53, and Janet Thermidor, 35, wielding a hammer and then setting both women on fire. He made off with $1,269 from the robbery. Henry later called the police to claim that someone else had robbed the Deerfield Beach shop, but one of his two victims Janet Thermidor, lived for about 12 hours after the attack, just long enough to give a positive identification of Henry as the attacker in a recorded statement; he was arrested the next day. The prosecutor at Henry’s trial in 1988, Michael Satz, told the jurors that the killings were evil. He added that Henry, “Literally burned them up.” Michael, a Broward State Attorney, said that Robert Henry had committed one of the utmost cold-blooded acts in recent memory. Henry was subsequently convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, armed robbery, and arson. Mostly on behalf of the statement given by Thermidor.
According to Henry’s statements to police, and the trial testimony, Henry claimed that he first approached Harris after the store was closed on the evening of November 2, 1987, and told her that robbers had ordered him to tie her up and that she be blindfolded. From there Henry took Harris to a restroom where he tied her to a urinal. He left her there whilst he went to the office of the store and beat the second woman, Thermidor, repeatedly over the head with a hammer. He then doused the woman in a flammable liquid and set her on fire. Not finished yet, Henry returned to Harris in the restroom where he had tied her up and attacked her with the hammer, and then he set her ablaze. Thermidor survived the attack by attempting to douse her flames in a second restroom. Authorities arrived responding to the fire. Harris was already dead when they arrived. Later, in trial, Henry’s lawyer claimed, and tried unsuccessfully, to persuade the jurors that Thermidor never said his client’s name or said that she actually physically saw him during her statement and that Henry’s confession was unfairly and improperly coerced out of him.
Henry’s execution comes after many failed appeals. The latest of which was rejected by The Florida Supreme Court last week where he challenged the state’s method of execution: the lethal injection. In that most recent appeal lawyers representing Henry cited medical experts who claimed that one of the drugs used in Florida’s lethal chemical injection procedure, called midazolam, could cause extreme pain and a heart attack, because Henry himself suffered from coronary artery disease, high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. Henry’s lawyers cited the Eighth Amendment’s ban against cruel and unusual punishments and sought a delay of execution so that those issues could be sorted out.
However, in response to the appeal, the Florida attorney general’s office said there was no need for a hearing for each and every inmate who claimed he might suffer some level of pain in the process of execution. It was also noted that whilst using a new drug combination five death row inmates have been executed without a mishap.
Prior to his execution Henry read a three-minute final statement where he apologized for his crimes and claimed he hoped his death would bring comfort to the families of his long dead victims. However, in the same speech, he criticized the penalty of death, proclaiming that thieves do not get their hands cut off as punishment. He asked why, “We would continue to be the murderers of those who have murdered?” As he began to continue his speech an unidentified family member of one of the victims who was there to witness the execution cried out in a loud voice, “Die!” However, the person who the cry was intended for did not hear it, seeing as the thick glass partition between the witness and Henry’s chamber made it inaudible. The Florida state execution of Robert Henry comes after what was surely a long and drawn out legal battle for both the state and the families of the victims of a crime that Michael Satz had called “Cruel, heinous, vile and wicked.” Adding that the case was, “What nightmares are made of.”
By Ana Elunds