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Man who molested an infant gets life

The defendant's conviction for sexual assault on a 7-month-old girl was his second such offense.

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 25, 2000


NEW PORT RICHEY -- A Hudson man who is borderline mentally retarded was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday after a jury convicted him of sexually assaulting an infant girl.

Christopher Henry, 24, was charged with sexual battery in 1997 after the mother of the 7-month-old girl found blood in the child's diapers. Investigators said Henry admitted to penetrating the child with a pencil.

In a closing argument before a jury at the West Pasco courthouse, prosecutor Scott Andringa said Henry did not have the courage to admit what really happened at his Hudson Avenue mobile home -- that he tried to have intercourse with the infant.

When the girl's mother found her child injured, Andringa said, she cried and begged a friend to take them to the hospital. When Henry was questioned by police, Andringa added, he showed concern only for himself, worrying he would go to prison and threatening suicide.

Andringa asked the jury to consider the contrast between those two images.

"There is no doubt that this child was sexually abused," Andringa said. "Christopher Henry was alone with that child."

Henry's lawyer, John Swisher, argued that since detectives didn't tape-record the incriminating remarks, it wasn't clear how they conducted the interview. He suggested they might have browbeaten an admission out of Henry. He also questioned whether Henry had enough time alone with the child to sexually assault her.

"If he did it, when did he do it?" Swisher said.

In sentencing Henry to life, as the law requires in cases of capital sexual battery, Circuit Judge Craig C. Villanti declared him a sexual predator and said he had forfeited his right to walk among free people.

It marked the second time Henry has been tried on this charge. Last August, another jury deadlocked after hearing the case.

In 1994, Henry was convicted on a charge of molesting a 5-year-old boy, which brought him two years of house arrest and eight years of probation, plus mandatory sex offender counseling. He was still on probation for that charge when he violated it with the offense against the infant girl.

Henry has been in custody since his May 1997 arrest. He previously attended special education classes at Hudson High School and played on its Special Olympics soccer team. His lawyer did not invoke Henry's mental limitations as a defense in the trial, however, saying a mental health expert had examined him and found him competent to stand trial.

Swisher said he would appeal Wednesday's verdict.

The Department of Children and Families took custody of the infant after Henry's 1997 arrest, because the mother had left her unattended with a convicted sex offender. In the courtroom, the mother sat with her husband, and both welcomed the verdict.

"It's not fair for someone to walk the streets that's done something that horrible," she said. "Anything you could imagine as punishment ain't really enough."

Her husband said they had waited a long time for justice in this case.

"I think they should castrate him," he said. But life in prison, he added, was "the next best thing to me."

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