Shawn Henning, a former Herscher resident, has been exonerated for the murder of Everett Carr in Connecticut.
The gruesome murder occurred in 1985. Henning and his friend Ralph "Ricky" Birch were wrongfully convicted in 1989. Recent DNA testing and other forensic evidence established that they were innocent of the crime.
Henning, along with Birch, had been living in a stolen car. They were involved in burglaries around the time of the murder and readily admitted to the fact, but always denied their connection to the murder.
Assuming that the murder had occurred from a burglary gone wrong, police arrested the teens. However, no traces of blood were found on the boys or on the car, which clearly had not been cleaned. In addition, their shoe sizes were much larger than the bloody footprint left by the assailant next to the body of Mr. Carr.
However, famous forensic scientist Dr. Henry C. Lee, star witness in several famous criminal trials, including O.J. Simpson’s, testified that he found a stained towel in an upstairs bathroom at Carr’s home and that his repeated tests on the stains proved they were made by blood. The prosecutor suggested to jurors in his closing arguments that the teens could have used the towel to clean up.
Two Herscher witnesses in Henning’s case testified to his guilt based on telephone calls made to them by Henning. The witnesses later recanted.
Birch and Henning were convicted in separate trials of felony murder and sentenced to 50 and 55 years in prison.
However, in 2008, during research for an appeal, it was discovered that the towel had never been tested.
When the towel was finally tested, the results showed the red-colored stains were not made by blood.
Henning and Birch would serve 11 more years before their appeal reached the state Supreme Court, which reversed the murder convictions in a unanimous decision. Lee, who had been the director of the state police forensic laboratory, was criticized for his false testimony.
In Henning v. Commissioner of Correction’s findings it is stated, “During closing argument, the petitioner's trial counsel emphasized the lack of forensic evidence, arguing that it simply made no sense that the petitioner and Birch could have committed such a violent and bloody crime without getting a drop of blood on their shoes or clothing, or without transferring any trace evidence to the Buick.”
According to Henning’s attorney, W. James Cousins, “They served 30 years in prison for something they had nothing to do with. All charges against him were permanently dismissed on July 10, 2020.”
Cousins is associated with Centurion, an innocence organization. According to the Centurion website, “This was a long and arduous struggle with the state fighting vigorously at every stage. Shawn and Ricky’s journey to freedom took them through habeas trials, appeals to the Appellate Court, an appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court and eventually back to the Superior Court for Friday’s dismissal. The Connecticut Supreme Court had vacated the convictions of Shawn and Ricky concluding that the state obtained those convictions based on the false testimony of noted forensic criminalist Dr. Henry Lee.”
It continues, “DNA of the true assailant has been detected on four items intimately associated with the homicidal attack. This expansive DNA testing exonerates Mr. Henning and Mr. Birch.”
In fact, new DNA studies found that the DNA belongs to an unknown woman. According to Cybergenetics, “The woman's DNA was clearly on a White Owl cigar box. And, statistically, her DNA was on the victim's clothing, on the knife found under his body, and on the wood flooring where he died.”
Hartford Courant, July 11, 2020. ‘IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME COMING’.