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Prosecution fears losing key witness in Henderson case to marriage

Symbol of law and justice in the empty courtroom, law and justice concept.

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Wednesday, the state’s attorney general’s office filed a motion in Jefferson County Circuit court to preserve testimony in the upcoming trial of suspended Jefferson County District Attorney Charles Todd Henderson. Specifically, special division’s chief, Matt Hart, asked the court to allow the prosecution to depose Yareima Carmen Valecillos Akl, Henderson’s alleged girlfriend, because the state fears the couple may marry before trial and invoke spousal privilege.

Henderson, the county’s first Democratic DA in decades, was indicted for perjury four days before taking office in Jan. 2017. The perjury allegation stems from a 2015 divorce case in which Henderson served as the guardian ad litem for Akl’s minor daughter. Henderson is charged with a Class C felony for providing false information to a judge.

Henderson stands accused of lying before Judge Patricia Stephens during questioning about his relationship with Akl, while he served as her minor child’s GAL. In Oct. 2016, as a result of the two-day hearing, in September of that year, Judge Stephens changed primary custody of the minor child from the mother to the father and banned the child from being in the presence of Henderson. She also ordered that parties who have a romantic relationship not be allowed to spend the night or have access to the child. Judge Stephens demanded Akl, a foreign national, surrender her passport to the court.

The current motion claims “Akl right now, possesses material, first-hand testimony that no other witness could provide.” The state argues that if the court refuses to order Akl to give evidence before the trial, which is scheduled for Oct. 13, it runs the risk that Henderson, “would seek to thwart justice and shield material testimony from the jury by marrying a material witness just before his criminal trial begins.” While the state says it has no interest in the couple’s marriage, there is evidence that suggests that Akl is or may be unavailable to provide that critical testimony at trial. According to the state, “[A] substantial likelihood exists that the prospective deponent [Akl] will be unavailable for trial and her testimony is highly relevant to a central issue in the case, justice generally requires preservation of that testimony.”

Henderson, in his original response to the court, said he had no personal relationship with Akl at the time and that the two parties were essentially in agreement on custody of the child. His attorney, James Parkman, called the indictment an “injustice” and vowed that Henderson would fight it and win.

Among Democrats, there is ample suspicion that Henderson’s charge is politically motivated because of his surprise win over incumbent Republican candidate, Brandon Falls, in Nov. 2016.

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The state contends that “due to the exceptional circumstances of the case, it is in the interest of justice that Akl’s testimony is taken and preserved for trial.”

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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