Defendant in murder trial denies crimes

September 26, 2008

MARSHALL — The 20-year-old man on trial for the murder of an elderly Marshall couple denied he committed the crimes Friday and testified that he never implicated other suspects. He also contended police fabricated his statements.

Lyndale Henderson is on trial in Saline County Circuit Court for the killings of Richard Shepard, 78, and Jessie Shepard, 72, who were found beaten and stabbed June 5, 2006, in their Marshall home, which was torched.

Pettis County Circuit Judge Robert Koffman is hearing the case after the Saline judge recused himself.

Missouri State Highway Patrol Officer Darren Blankenship testified that Henderson informed him June 9, 2006, that co-defendant Daniel Berning was involved in slaying the Shepards. Blankenship also participated in the initial crime scene investigation and interrogation of Berning, a key witness against Henderson.

Henderson said that he was out of town during the deaths of the Shepards and only learned of the incident later, according to Blankenship. In another interview shortly after this meeting, Henderson told Blankenship that Spencer Anderson also participated in killing the Shepards with Berning.

Anderson and Berning have pleaded guilty to two counts each of second-degree murder, two counts each of armed criminal action, and one count each of burglary in a deal with prosecutors. Anderson was sentenced to seven years in prison for burglary and Berning was sentenced to 15 years in prison for burglary.

Both await sentencing on the murder convictions. Their sentences will run concurrent under the plea agreement, and both face a prison term of not less than 10 years and not to exceed 30 years, or life imprisonment.

Henderson is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree arson, armed criminal action, burglary and theft and faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted.

Mark Gooden, a part-time officer with the Marshall Police Department, testified that Henderson once again provided a statement to police that implicated Berning on June 10, 2006.

“He said Mr. Berning left Mr. Henderson’s residence carrying a bag with some clothes and a golf club,” Gooden said. “He said he never spoke to him after that."

Henderson refused to sign that statement, Gooden said. Despite protest from defense attorneys, the statement was submitted as evidence.

In his testimony, Henderson acknowledged the conversations with Blankenship and Gooden, but contended he told them nothing beyond where he was and who he was with  June 5, 2006.

“In the first interview, they did not tell me why they were talking to me at all,” Henderson testified.

In their second conversation on June 9, 2006, Henderson answered that he had contact with Berning on the day before the Shepards’ deaths when asked by Blankenship. He testified that neither Berning nor Anderson was discussed in their initial interview. Henderson claims he never saw the reports filed regarding the two interviews held with Blankenship.

Regarding his conversation with Gooden the next day, Henderson stated that he again said he knew nothing about the Shepards’ deaths or Berning’s participation. According to Henderson, he later left the interview room accompanied by Gooden to go to the Marshall police chief’s office, where police told Henderson that he was considered a suspect.

“That’s when they started accusing me of being involved with this crime,” Henderson said.

Police then informed Henderson that Anderson and Berning were confessing to murder and indicating that Henderson also participated, Henderson testified. Henderson said he knew the statement stemming from that interview was inaccurate, which is why he refused to sign it.

“I knew it wasn’t right because they said I was a murder suspect,” Henderson said.

Henderson also detailed to jurors his whereabouts on the day before the Shepards’ deaths and the following morning. He explained that he met with Berning while out with other friends on the afternoon of June 4, 2006, explaining previous testimony that the two had been seen together on the night of the fire. Berning later went to his house. Henderson testified that he fell asleep while Berning was still at his house, and he was unaware whether he left that night.

Also Friday, Marshall Coroner William Harlow testified about his initial investigation of the Shepards’ deaths and subsequent visit to the house that led him to question an initial ruling that the fire was accidental.

Harlow said he noted the wounds on the neck of Richard Shepard, but the fire marshal attributed the injuries to the ax or shovel of firefighters as they entered the burning room. When Harlow returned to the house to retrieve a hospital bed motor suspected to have caused the fire, he noticed a can of charcoal lighter fluid at the bottom of the basement stairs.

“I just thought it was extremely odd that this house caught on fire and there was this can of charcoal lighter fluid at the bottom of the stairs,” Harlow said.

Harlow’s suspicion grew as he discovered a belt, coins and pills scattered in the basement. This led him to postpone the cremation of the Shepards’ bodies just as the van carrying them was pulling into the crematory.

Harlow ordered autopsies that revealed blunt-force trauma to the head and neck killed both Shepards, leading to the homicide investigation.

Defense attorneys called Carlos Lauderdale to testify this afternoon, but, after a brief conference, Koffman announced that he was unavailable for questioning. Berning testified earlier this week that Lauderdale was present at the scene on the night of the Shepards’ deaths.

The state rested its case Friday. The trial is expected to resume Monday. Koffman said he hopes the case will conclude for jury deliberation sometime Monday afternoon.