Some here hoping parole of arsonist is overturned

Published 9:58 pm Monday, October 20, 2003

By By JOHN DILMORE JR. Managing Editor
Many in Escambia County are hoping the recent parole of a man convicted in 1996 of burning an Escambia County church will be reconsidered by the State Parole Board tomorrow.
The board granted parole to Gary Henderson, 45, on Oct. 8.
Henderson has been serving a trio of life sentences at the Elmore Correctional Facility.
One of the sentences was handed down in Escambia County, for the church burning, and two were handed down in Conecuh County, where Henderson was tried and convicted on two more arson charges in 1997.
After an inmate is granted parole, there is a three-week waiting period before his or her actual release. So Henderson is still behind bars at this time.
That is where some would like to see him stay. District Attorney Michael Godwin was made aware of Henderson's impending parole hearing on Aug. 25. On Sept. 9, Godwin sent a letter to the parole board opposing the release of Henderson.
The letter read: "The District Attorney's Office for the 21st Judicial Circuit strongly opposes the Board's granting the above-referenced defendant parole. This inmate is a pyromaniac and had been in prison for prior arsons before the Escambia County conviction for arson.
The prior arsons Godwin referenced in his letter occurred in Mobile and Washington Counties in the early 80s. Henderson served prison sentences for each, Godwin said.
Monday, the Parole Board's legal staff will present the board with letters of protest that have been received in opposition to Henderson's release. The board will then have the option of sticking with its current decision, or calling a new hearing to reconsider the matter.
Henderson's ex-wife, Sheila Henderson, has been among those urging the Parole Board to reconsider its actions.
Henderson was a volunteer firefighter in Escambia County at the time Pleasant Hill Holiness Church in Wallace was burned.