Thursday, February 22, 2018
Public safety

Florida executes killer who set 2 co-workers afire

STARKE — A Florida man has been executed for killing two female co-workers by beating them with a hammer and setting them on fire during a robbery at a fabric store where they worked. One witness to the lethal injection Thursday blurted out "Die!" as the inmate read his last statement.

Robert L. Henry, 55, was pronounced dead at 6:16 p.m. Thursday after the chemical injection at the Florida State Prison. He was convicted of first-degree murder in the November 1987 deaths of Phyllis Harris, 53, and Janet Thermidor, 35, at the Deerfield Beach store. Authorities say about $1,200 was taken in the robbery.

Before the execution, Henry read a three-minute statement in which he apologized for his crimes and said he hoped his death would comfort the families of the victims. But he also criticized the death penalty, saying thieves don't get their hands amputated as punishment.

"Why would we continue to be murderers to those who have murdered?" he said.

Then, as he continued, an unidentified victim family member who was witnessing the execution said in a loud voice: "Die!" The comment wasn't audible through the thick glass partition separating witnesses from the chamber.

After the execution, Thermidor's sister, Deborah Knights, read a family statement.

"We will always cherish the memory of her life that was taken too soon by a demon from hell," she said. "Today should be closure, but how can you forget the brutal way in which two lives were taken without remorse?"

In the 1987 attack, Thermidor was still alive when authorities found her beaten and burned. She identified Henry as the attacker in a recorded statement before she died hours later.

Court records show Henry initially claimed the robbery was committed by three masked intruders who also abducted him, but later he confessed to acting alone. That confession was recorded.

"You talk about atrocious, heinous, cruel, vile or wicked," Broward County prosecutor Michael Satz told the jury that convicted Henry in 1988. "This is a case that nightmares are made of."

In addition to two counts of first-degree murder, Henry was convicted of armed robbery and arson.

According to trial testimony and Henry's own statements to police, Henry first approached Harris after the store had closed on Nov. 2, 1987, telling her unknown robbers had ordered him to tie her up and blindfold her. Henry led Harris to a restroom, bound her there, then went to the store's office where he hit Thermidor repeatedly on the head with a hammer, doused her with a flammable liquid and set her on fire.

Henry then went back to the restroom and attacked Harris with the hammer, setting her ablaze, according to trial testimony.

Authorities responding to the fire found Harris dead but Thermidor still alive. Following her statement to investigators, Henry was arrested the next day.

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