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Suspect who shot Utah officer had violated parole, walked away from second chance treatment program

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Posted at 6:53 PM, Jan 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-20 23:54:41-05

HOLLADAY, Utah -- Officer Doug Barney’s death has raised questions over whether his suspected shooter should have been on the streets in the first place.

Many are wondering why a federal judge didn’t keep Cory Lee Henderson behind bars and instead sent him out into the community, when Henderson has a criminal history.

But a local lawyer is saying the judge made the right call at the time.

“It’s upsetting to know that he was a dangerous person and we were aware of it,” said Shante Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Fraternal Order of Police.

That decision could have changed the course of what happened in Holladay on Sunday.

When Cory Henderson reportedly shot and killed Officer Doug Barney, he’d been on the run from the feds, after walking away from a treatment program in December.

That program was supposed to be his second chance, after he skipped out on his parole last year.

After the shooting, questions pop up. Like, what more could have been done? Why was Henderson given that second chance?

Recordings from Henderson’s appearance in front of Judge Evelyn Furse give some insight.

After listening to the recommendations of both the prosecution and defense on Henderson’s future, she said, “Mr. Henderson, I see... the court does have concerns given prior problems."

But, when considering sending him to treatment rather than prison, Judge Furse goes on to say, “This does seem like a unique and good opportunity for you, and so I would like to be able to release you to it.”

Greg Skordas, a private practice criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor, said there’s a lot to consider when a judge makes that kind of decision.

For example, the kinds of charges involved in the case, and that person’s history.

When it came to Henderson, he said, “His prior history for violence really wasn't significant. He had felony convictions, but they were for possession of firearms or for drug type of things: not for crimes of violence.”

That, he said, would have told Judge Furse that Henderson wasn’t likely to violently act out should she send him to treatment.

But what about the fact that he skipped out on parole?

Not showing up to parole and the treatment program also wouldn’t necessarily be an indicator of violence, Skordas asserted.

“I don't even think those are triggers, or the kind of things that, really, we should have all been alerted,” he said.

Recordings from both Henderson’s last parole hearing and the court hearing with Judge Furse show the final decisions were made with hopes Henderson would turn his life around.

Henderson’s attorney said the man would have been able to get help for issues like substance abuse, as well as anger management and cognitive skills.

It would have allowed Henderson the chance to prove himself, and transition back into the community.

He was also to be closely monitored in the program, to keep Henderson on track.

“We try to set up halfway houses, and parole and probation, and treatment and things and hope that it works,” Skordas said. “And a lot of times those things do work. But occasionally, they don't.”

It didn’t work out in the end, in Henderson’s case. But Skordas argues there couldn’t have been a way to predict the situation would end in an officer’s death, and that the system worked the way it was supposed to.

“Given all the information they knew at the time, I think that the decision that was made was appropriate,” Skordas said. “I think the authorities did what made perfect sense.”