John Ruthell Henry, 63, killed his estranged wife and her son nearly 30 years ago
TAMPA -- A man who killed his estranged wife and her son two years after he had been paroled for murdering his previous spouse is scheduled to be executed this week, more than two decades after he was sentenced to death.
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John Ruthell Henry, 63, is scheduled to die Wednesday for the 1985 stabbing death of his wife, Suzanne Henry, in Pasco County. Gov. Rick Scott signed Henry's death warrant for that murder.
He also was convicted in Hillsborough County of stabbing Suzanne Henry's 5-year-old son, Eugene Christian, near Plant City, hours after Suzanne's murder.
Henry also previously pleaded no contest to second-degree murder for fatally stabbing his common-law wife, Patricia Roddy, in 1976. He served less than eight years in prison and was released in 1983. He had been on parole for two years when he killed his wife and Eugene. Suzanne Henry's relatives told reporters she hadn't known about John Henry's previous killing when she married him after his release.
During his trial, prosecutors said Henry, an unemployed bricklayer, went to Suzanne Henry's home three days before Christmas to talk about buying a gift for the boy, who was Suzanne's son from a prior relationship. They fought over Henry living with another woman and he stabbed her 13 times in the neck and face, killing her. He took Eugene and drove around for nine hours, sometimes smoking crack cocaine, before killing the boy by stabbing him in the neck five times.
Hours later, Henry told a detective, he found himself wandering a field.
Mentally ill or competent?
Henry tried to use an insanity defense for killing his wife.
Psychiatrists at the trial testified that Henry had a low IQ, suffered from chronic paranoia and smoked crack cocaine. Henry told the therapists that he stabbed Eugene so he could rejoin his dead mother. He told them he had intended to kill himself but said he was unable to go through with it.
During the trial, then-Pasco County detective Fay Wilber testified that he drove Henry to find the boy's body. When the boy's "two small feet" were finally seen in the underbrush after dawn, Henry "started crying," Wilber said, according to news reports.
"He was crying and he held on to me," the detective said.
In recent months, Henry's attorneys have questioned whether his client was mentally stable enough to comprehend his death sentence.
In an appeal the Florida Supreme Court rejected last week, Henry's attorney, Baya Harrison III, wrote that Henry's "abhorrent childhood, extensive personal and family mental health history, poor social adjustment, and lack of rational thinking and reasoning skills so impaired his adaptive functioning that he was actually performing at the level of a person with an IQ of 70."
In May, a panel of mental health experts said Henry doesn't suffer from mental illness or an intellectual disability and that he understands "the nature and effect of the death penalty and why it is to be imposed on him," according to court records.
Pasco County Sheriff's Maj. Ed Beckman was a young detention deputy at the agency the year the killings happened. Beckman, who is scheduled to be a witness at Henry's execution, said that he's one of the few people still working at the agency from the time of the killings.
"I had just turned 20 years old. It was around Christmas and those events kind of stick out a little bit," he said. "I want to be there for the sake of the victims, just to be there for them. And on behalf of the men and women of the sheriff's office, to make sure the sentence is carried out."