For years, Carmelita Henderson worked in the mail room at the D.C. jail. Then, in 2014, her boyfriend was arrested and sent to the facility.
While Levi Davis was an inmate, he began receiving letters from another woman he was also dating. Henderson noticed the letters and federal prosecutors said she began intercepting them. Davis complained and Henderson was fired.
Still, the two continued to date occasionally after Davis’s release from jail. On a September evening in 2015, Henderson drove to pick up Davis. They were in her SUV when two masked men ran up to the vehicle, yanked the passenger door open and began shooting Davis. He was struck 20 times.
Henderson, 52, is now on trial on a first-degree murder charge. Prosecutors in court said she “set a trap” with two men to have Davis, a 38-year-old father of eight, killed. They described Henderson as a vengeful woman who was angry Davis dated someone else and blamed him for the loss of her job.
But Henderson’s defense attorneys say she is innocent and was herself traumatized by the violence.
After hearing evidence over two weeks, a D.C. Superior Court jury is now deliberating over which version they believe.
“You may not like Levi Davis. But what he did, did not deserve the death penalty,” Christian Natiello, an assistant U.S. attorney, told the jury during his opening statements. “Mr. Davis was ambushed by two shooters the defendant called just minutes before.”
Henderson’s attorney Michael Madden argued his client had nothing to do with Davis’s killing. He said Henderson was in the process of appealing her termination after Davis had allegedly recanted his accusations.
“She didn’t have a motive to have him killed. She had every motive to keep him alive,” Madden argued.
It’s a challenging case for prosecutors. The two gunmen have never been identified. Henderson told police that she had just gotten out of the driver’s side of the car, which she had parked at her apartment complex, when the shooters approached and that she could not provide any description of the assailants because they wore masks. Residents of the complex called 911 to report the shooting. Some witnesses also said they saw two masked men running away from the scene.
Prosecutors said one of the shell casings inside Henderson’s SUV had DNA on it that matched Henderson’s. They argued the finding suggests Henderson helped load one of the guns that was used. Henderson’s attorney contended the DNA could have transferred to the shell casing when it landed in the vehicle.
Prosecutors also presented cellphone records that they say showed Henderson sent a text message to someone minutes before she pulled into the apartment complex with Davis. Authorities contend Henderson alerted one of the shooters of their arrival. Henderson’s attorney noted the call logs do not identify what the text message said.
Perhaps the most critical evidence for the prosecution is an alleged confession Henderson made to another man she had dated. The man, now in prison for an armed robbery conviction, took the witness stand.
Wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, Marcus Hunter testified he saw Henderson a few weeks after Davis was killed. He asked Henderson why he had not been able to reach her or see her. She told him the police had her cellphone and SUV. Then, Hunter said, she told him something else.
“I got Slim killed,” Hunter, 33, testified that Henderson told him.
“She said he was ‘playing games’ and he got her fired and he was cheating on her with one of his baby mothers,” Hunter said. He said Henderson told him that Davis had also physically abused her.
Hunter said Henderson told him that it was her idea to be with Davis at the time of the shooting because police would be “less suspicious” of her if he was killed in her car.
He also testified Henderson told him that when she drove into her parking lot, one of the assailants “snatched” her out of the vehicle before they began shooting.
Hunter is in prison in Virginia after pleading guilty to an armed robbery charge in the District. He said he told authorities about his conversation with Henderson a month after his arrest in November 2015, just two months after Davis was killed.
Madden argued Hunter fabricated his story about Henderson in exchange for favors from prosecutors. Under cross examination, Hunter said he had cooperated with authorities in other instances, including two murder cases, in exchange for lighter prison sentences. Hunter also said he was using heroin at the time he saw Henderson.
Hunter also admitted he had asked authorities if he would receive the District’s reward money as a result of helping in the investigation into Davis’s homicide. He also said he told authorities he viewed his cooperation as an “ace in the hole” should he get charged with another crime.
Before Hunter’s testimony, jurors viewed crime scene photos, some of them graphic. One showed Davis’s body, slumped over the back of the passenger seat. After the shooting, Henderson had told police that Davis tried to escape the gunfire by trying to climb into the back seat.