Henderson accepts 53-year sentence in negotiated guilty plea in the killing of Diamond Bradley
HENNEPIN — While it was expected Public Defender Roger Bolin would file motions Tuesday afternoon in Putnam County Court for the upcoming bench trial of Richard A. Henderson for the murder of 16-year-old Diamond Bradley, the plea deal sentencing Henderson to 53 years was a surprise.
"The talk of negotiations really picked up last night, but we didn't know until today whether he'd take the deal or not," Putnam County State's Attorney Christina Judd-Mennie said after the hearing.
Henderson, 26, of Standard pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder, a Class M felony. The state dropped the remaining charges.
Mennie said the state would have sought a motion stating the crime was "brutal and heinous," which would have had Henderson facing a sentence of 20 years to natural life in the Illinois Department of Corrections if the case had gone to trial and Henderson had been convicted.
Judge Stephen A. Kouri, before discussing the terms of the deal, asked Henderson about his education. Henderson told Kouri he has a 10th-grade education and no GED, but that he understood he would have to serve 100 percent of his sentence followed by a mandatory 3 years of supervised release. He will get credit for the 275 days served in pre-trial custody.
Diamond Bradley, 16, of Spring Valley was last seen by her family on Jan. 23. She was reported missing the next day and was found stabbed to death alongside a rural Putnam County road on Jan. 27.
Henderson was taken into custody on Feb. 5 after investigators linked him to Bradley through interviews, surveillance footage, and cell phone data.
Mennie previously said the prosecution was well prepared for a trial and that there was "an abundance of evidence." Both sides expected a trial to last only three to four days.
Following the acceptance of the plea agreement, Mennie said if there had been a trial, a Putnam County sheriff's deputy would have testified Henderson had picked up Diamond Bradley on or about Jan. 24, 2018 and taken her to the road where her body was later found.
The prosecution would have also entered video evidence taken from surveillance cameras linking Henderson to Bradley and their route together; cell phone evidence from the FBI linking their cell phone locations on Jan. 24; as well as a knife, the murder weapon Henderson used to stab Bradley several times. He then hid the weapon in an ash pit at the commercial greenhouse where he worked in Granville.
Though Henderson was initially charged with concealment of a homicidal death, a Class 3 felony with a sentencing range of 2 to 5 years, Bolin successfully got that charge dropped during a Sept. 6 hearing.
Bolin argued the 120-day limit of the Speedy Trial Act has been exceeded, and Judd-Mennie agreed to drop the charge to focus on the murder charges.
The additional three first-degree murder charges were entered on Aug. 30, and each carried concurrent $1 million bonds. Henderson had previously entered pleas of not guilty on all counts.
Diamond Bradley's mother, Doris Bradley, spoke on the stand to share the impact the killing of her daughter has had on her family. She said she had initially moved to the Illinois Valley for a better life for her children, but now that dream was gone, and that her family no longer wanted to be here because of the painful memories of Diamond.
"I have two other children, 14 and 11, and they can't sleep at night. I can't work the way I used to, and we're all just trying to get through this so we can get on with our lives. Diamond was my everything. My house is so quiet, she was everything to us, and now it's all been taken away from us. I brought my children here for a better life, not something like this. I don't want to be here anymore, but we're going to make it through this and go on," she said, tearfully.
Mennie said it was the family's decision to allow Henderson the negotiated deal and that they had been deeply involved through the entire legal process.
"This was their decision, and they really needed the closure. I can't imagine being in their place," she said.
Mennie credited the many local law enforcement agencies who, she said, worked seamlessly together and "really nailed the case down for us."
Bolin said Henderson gave no indication why he became interested last week in a potential plea deal, adding "This was his decision."