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New parole hearing set for arsonist

By By JOHN DILMORE JR. Managing Editor
The State Parole Board has voted to reconsider the parole of a man convicted in 1996 of burning an Escambia County church.
Gary Henderson, 45, will go before the parole board again on Wed., Nov. 19. Henderson was orginally granted parole on Oct. 8, but has remained behind bars. There is a three-week waiting period between the granting of parole and an inmate's actual release.
The parole board's decision to reconsider Henderson's release came in reaction to protest from many in the community, including Henderson's ex-wife.
No specific time has been set for the hearing on Nov. 19. According to parole board procedure, the board room's doors will open at 6:30 a.m., and actual hearings will begin at 9 a.m.
The order of the hearings for inmates being considered that day is random.
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 burning of Pleasant Hill Holiness Church in Wallace, and two were handed down in Conecuh County, where Henderson was tried and convicted on a pair of arson charges in 1997.
District Attorney Michael Godwin was made aware of Henderson's impending parole hearing on Aug. 25, and on Sept. 9 sent a letter to the parole board strongly uging against his release.
The letter read, in part: "The District Attorney's Office for the 21st Judicial Circuit strongly opposes the Board's granting the above-referenced defendant parole…There could be no greater risk to society than releasing this inmate on parole."
Before being convicted in Escambia and Conecuh Counties in 1996 and 1997, Henderson received arson convictions in Mobile and Washington Counties in the early 80s. He served prison sentences for each, Godwin said.
Henderson was a volunteer firefighter in Escambia County at the time Pleasant Hill Holiness Church in Wallace was burned.