John Patrick Henretta and a co-defendant
were convicted in the death of Rose Crabtree, a Salvation Army Thrift
Store worker found in a storeroom robbed, raped and slashed in
Cleveland, Tenn., in 1988.
Supreme Court Upholds Death Penalty for Bradley
September 30, 2010
The Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld the death
sentence of John Patrick Henretta for the rape, murder, robbery and
kidnapping of Frances Rose Crabtree, a 32-year-old Bradley County
thrift store employee.
At 67 years old, John henretta is the oldest person
on Death Row in Tennessee, according to the Dept. of Corrections
Henretta and his accomplice, Michael Goodhart, were
on the run for crimes committed in Pennsylvania. On November 30, 1988,
Henretta and Goodhart stopped in Cleveland, Tenn., and decided to rob
the Salvation Army Thrift Store after it closed. During the robbery,
both Henretta and Goodhart raped the victim. Before leaving the store,
Henretta stabbed the victim in the neck, leaving her to bleed to death
on the storeroom floor.
The murder remained unsolved until 1994, when the
Cleveland Police Department learned of a letter Goodhart wrote to a
Pennsylvania federal judge providing details of the crime. Henretta
was indicted in 1997 and later convicted of first degree premeditated
murder in 2002.
In a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Sharon
G. Lee, the Supreme Court rejected all of the issues raised in
Henretta’s automatic appeal and concluded that none of the issues
presented entitled Henretta to relief. The Court affirmed the decision
of the Court of Criminal Appeals and held that the sentence was not
imposed arbitrarily, nor was the sentence excessive or
disproportionate. The Supreme Court set Henretta’s execution date at
October 4, 2011.
On November 30, 1988,
Frances Rose Crabtree, a thirty-two year old mother of two minor
children, was working alone as a sales clerk at the Salvation Army
Thrift Store in Cleveland, Tennessee.
Between 4:30 and 5:00
p.m., Ms. Crabtree spoke with her sister by telephone from the store,
and they made plans to meet at church at 7:00 that night. When Ms.
Crabtree failed to meet her sister at church, her sister and some
friends went to the store to search for her.
Ms. Crabtree's car
was still parked at the store, the front door of the store was locked,
and her lunch box and coat were lying on the checkout counter in the
front part of the store, but Ms. Crabtree was not located.
The police were
called, and in the middle section of the store, they discovered an
empty cash register drawer, scattered receipts, an empty money bag,
and one of Ms. Crabtree's shoes. In a cluttered storage room at the
rear of the store, officers found Ms. Crabtree's body near a large
pool of blood. She was partially covered by a bed cover and was
clothed in a blouse, bra, and skirt. She had been stabbed three times
in the neck—twice on the left side and once on the right. One of the
wounds to the left side of her neck had not cut any large veins or
arteries; however, the other wound to that side of the neck had
severed the jugular vein. The wound to the right side of Ms.
Crabtree's neck was fatal and had severed the carotid artery, the
jugular vein, and cut through the ligaments holding the backbone
together, exposing the spinal cord.
confirmed that Ms. Crabtree died from loss of blood as the result of
these wounds. Ms. Crabtree's panties and purse
containing $420 in cash were missing along with store proceeds in the
amount of $189.60. No murder weapon was found. Subsequent Tennessee
Bureau of Investigation ("TBI") laboratory examination of vaginal
swabs taken from Ms. Crabtree, her skirt, and the bed cover that had
been draped over her body revealed the presence of sperm, suggesting
that Ms. Crabtree may have been raped. This evidence, along with
samples of her blood, saliva, and hair, was sent to the Federal Bureau
of Investigation ("FBI") for deoxyribonucleic acid ("DNA") analysis.
Ms. Crabtree's murder remained
unsolved for the next several years. Then, in early 1994, Lieutenant
Danny Chastain of the Cleveland Police Department saw a National Crime
Information Center teletype from police in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
directed to any Tennessee police agency having an unsolved November
1988 homicide involving a female store employee whose throat had been
cut. Lieutenant Chastain learned that this teletype was prompted by a
letter that had been received by a federal judge in Philadelphia from
an individual identified as Michael Goodhart, who was then
incarcerated in Bastrop County Federal Correctional Facility in Texas.
Lieutenant Chastain telephoned Mr. Goodhart, who advised him that the
murder he had witnessed had occurred between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. in a
thrift store after the store had closed and that the murderer was
presently incarcerated. Further investigation revealed that Mr.
Goodhart and the defendant, John Patrick Henretta, had been traveling
together at the time of the thrift store murder and that after the
murder, on December 3, 1988, they had been arrested together outside
of Little Rock, Arkansas. Mr. Goodhart and Mr. Henretta were wanted by
the FBI for a kidnapping at knifepoint that had occurred on or about
the day after Thanksgiving of 1988, and Mr. Henretta had previously
been convicted of homicide and rape and was currently a suspect in yet
In February of 1994,
Lieutenant Chastain and TBI Agent Brooks Wilkins traveled to Texas to
speak further with Mr. Goodhart and then went to Leavenworth, Kansas,
where Mr. Henretta was incarcerated at the Leavenworth Federal
Correctional Facility ("Leavenworth"). Upon presentation of their
affidavit to a Leavenworth County judge, Lieutenant Chastain and Agent
Wilkins were issued a search warrant to obtain samples of Mr.
Henretta's blood, saliva, and hair.
Lieutenant Chastain and Agent
Wilkins met with Mr. Henretta at Leavenworth on February 11, 1994,
accompanied by an FBI agent assigned to the penitentiary, a forensic
scientist with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, and a corrections
officer employed by the penitentiary. Agent Wilkins had a copy of the
search warrant with him and advised Mr. Henretta that they were there
to investigate a murder that had occurred in Tennessee in 1988 and
explained that the purpose of the search warrant was to collect blood,
hair, and saliva samples from him. Mr. Henretta was cooperative, and
after the samples were taken, Agent Wilkins advised Mr. Henretta that
the investigation concerned the murder of Frances Rose Crabtree in
Cleveland, Tennessee, in November of 1988. Mr. Henretta expressed his
willingness to talk and after signing a waiver of his Miranda rights,
was interviewed by Agent Wilkins, providing the following signed sworn
We (Michael Goodhart and
myself) left Pennsylvania and we were on the run. I was on Parole
out of Penn. We went to Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. We were
coming back from Florida at
this time. We stopped in Tennessee and I did
not know the Town. We got there around noon or lunch time. We were
still driving the stolen Toyota from Penn. We were drinking and
stuff at some bar down the corner from the Salvation Army Store. We
hung around about two hours or so and went back by the store and
hung around till she closed at 4:30 or 5:00 PM. Goodhart opened up
the back door after hiding in the store. I came in the back door. We
went in and we both grabbed her back at the store room entrance. We
told her to lay down and Goodhart st [sic] sex with her first and I
went and got her purse. There was money in the purse. There was
$300.00 to $340.00 dollars in the purse. There was another $100.00
in a money bag in one dollar bills. After I got her purse I went
back and had sex with her. She was not putting up a struggle or
screaming. We both had knifes [sic], there [sic] were about twelve
inches long. The black handle knife found in the car when we were
arrested was the knife that was used in this murder. I believe This
[sic] was my knife. She got up right as I got done having sex with
her and Goodhart wanted to take her with us. She said that we could
not go out the back door because there was a police station right
out the back door. So I asked Goodhart what he wanted to do—I said
do you want me to kill her. He said yes. So I took my knife with my
right hand and struck her one time in the neck. Goodhart asked me if
she was dead and he poked her with his knife to make sure. We took
her purse and panties and hose and everything and put it in a bag. I
think we burned it in Alabama. I believe we threw her purse in a
trash can by the Waterfront in Memphis. About five minutes before we
left, I moved her and turned her over and covered her up with I
guess a white blanket. We left out the back of the store and got in
the car and left. We left town and went to Arkansas. We traveled on
the Interstate. The clothes were burned the next day. I covered her
up because I knew what I did was wrong.
We stayed in a motel in Brickley [sic],
Arkansas where we were busted by the FBI.
The original deal in this was to just rob her.
That was what we intended to do. We did not go in with the idea to
The lights were not on when we got in and they
were never turned on. Goodhart was the one that moved the cash
register drawer. I did not.
The lady was wearing a blue jean skirt, pink
top, she was a nice looking lady.
In addition to this statement,
Mr. Henretta drew and signed an accurate map of the layout of the
store that showed where Ms. Crabtree was killed and other details of
the crime scene. After giving his statement, Mr. Henretta told the
officers that he would be willing to come to Tennessee and plead
guilty in return for a life sentence if the death penalty was not
The blood, saliva, and hair
samples obtained from Mr. Henretta were received by the TBI laboratory
for testing and were sent to the FBI on March 8, 1994, for DNA
analysis. The analysis was completed in April of 1997 and revealed
that Mr. Henretta's DNA matched DNA found on Ms. Crabtree's skirt and
on the vaginal swabs taken from Ms. Crabtree. On August 20, 1997, Mr.
Henretta was indicted for premeditated murder, felony murder in the
perpetration of robbery, two counts of aggravated robbery, two counts
of aggravated rape, and two counts of aggravated kidnapping. On the
same date, the State filed notice that it would seek the death penalty.
On October 3, 1997, Mr.
Henretta was transferred from Leavenworth to the Bradley County jail
for arraignment and was thereafter returned to Leavenworth on November
3, 1997. The case was tried in April of 2002. During the guilt/innocence
phase of the trial, Mr. Henretta presented no witness testimony but
entered documentary evidence showing that he had been sentenced to
imprisonment for life without possibility of parole in Pennsylvania.
In his statement to the jury, defense counsel conceded that Mr.
Henretta committed the charged crimes of robbery, rape, and murder,
stating "You have heard proof that John Patrick Henretta robbed, raped,
and murdered Rose Crabtree. You have not heard from me, nor will you
ever, or from Mr. Henretta, anything to the contrary. Those are true."
Defense counsel further advised the jury "this case ... is only about
sentencing." The jury convicted the defendant of premeditated murder
in the first degree, felony murder in the first degree, two counts of
robbery with a deadly weapon, two counts of aggravated rape, and two
counts of aggravated kidnapping. The trial court merged the
premeditated murder conviction and the felony murder conviction into a
single conviction and the convictions of robbery with a deadly weapon,
aggravated rape, and aggravated kidnapping into a single conviction
for each offense.
During the subsequent
sentencing phase of the trial, the State asserted the existence of
four statutory aggravating factors. First, the State presented proof
that "[t]he defendant was previously convicted of one or more felonies,
other than the present charge, which involve the use or threat of
violence to the person," Tenn.Code Ann. § 39-2-203(i)(2) (1982). In
that regard, the State established that on October 11, 1974, Mr.
Henretta was convicted of a rape occurring in Crawford County,
Pennsylvania on July 17, 1974; on June 17, 1991, he was convicted of a
second degree murder occurring in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania on
September 19, 1988, and of a rape occurring in that county on November
14, 1988; and on July 7, 1989, he was convicted of a kidnapping
occurring on November 23, 1988. With respect to the aggravating factor
that "[t]he murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel in that
it involved torture or depravity of mind," Tenn.Code Ann. §
39-2-203(i)(5), the State relied on proof adduced during the guilt
phase pertaining to the nature of the wounds inflicted upon Ms.
Crabtree and other circumstances of her murder. As to the aggravating
circumstance that "[t]he murder was committed for the purpose of
avoiding, interfering with, or preventing a lawful arrest or
prosecution of the defendant or another," Tenn.Code Ann. §
39-2-203(i)(6), the State relied upon proof introduced during the
guilt phase as to the close proximity of the police station, showing
that Ms. Crabtree was murdered to prevent her from summoning the
John Patrick Henretta