Killer who burned co-workers to death executed in Florida

By BRENDAN FARRINGTON Associated Press Published:

STARKE, Fla.­ -- A Florida man has been executed for killing two female co-workers by beating them with a hammer and setting them on fire during a robbery at a fabric store where they worked. One witness to the lethal injection Thursday blurted out "Die!" as the inmate read his last statement.

Robert L. Henry, 55, was pronounced dead at 6:16 p.m. after the chemical injection Thursday at the Florida State Prison. He was convicted of first-degree murder in the November 1987 deaths of Phyllis Harris, 53, and Janet Thermidor, 35, who worked with him at the Deerfield Beach fabric store.

Before the execution, Henry read a three-minute statement apologizing for his crimes and saying he hoped his death would comfort the families of the victims. He also criticized the death penalty, saying thieves don't get their hands amputated as punishment.

"Why then do we continue to be the murderers of those who have murdered?" he said.

At that point, an unidentified victim family member who was witnessing the execution said in a loud voice: "Die!"

The comment wasn't audible through the thick glass partition separating witnesses from the chamber.

In the 1987 attack, Henry left the victims for dead, but Thermidor was still alive when authorities found her beaten and burned. She identified Henry as the attacker in a recorded statement before she succumbed to her injuries. Authorities said he stole $1,269 in the robbery.

Henry later confessed after first claiming someone else committed the crime.

"You talk about atrocious, heinous, cruel, vile or wicked. He literally burned them up," Broward County prosecutor Michael Satz told the jury that convicted Henry in 1988. "This is a case that nightmares are made of."

According to trial testimony and his own statements to police, Henry first approached Harris after the store had closed on Nov. 2, 1987, telling her unknown robbers had ordered him to tie her up and blindfold her. Henry led Harris to a restroom, tied her to a urinal, then went to the store's office where he hit Thermidor repeatedly on the head with hammer, doused her with a flammable liquid and set her on fire.

Henry then went back to the restroom and attacked Harris with the hammer, setting her ablaze as well, according to the testimony.

Authorities responding to the fire found Harris dead but Thermidor still alive, after she had tried to douse the flames in a second restroom. She lived for about 12 hours, and her statement pointed to Henry. He was arrested the next day.

"I don't know why he had to do that to me. He didn't have to do that to me," Thermidor said on the tape, which was played in court during Henry's trial.

Court records show that Henry initially claimed the robbery was committed by three masked intruders who also abducted him, but later he confessed to acting alone. That confession was recorded.

In addition to two counts of first-degree murder, Henry also had been convicted of armed robbery and arson.

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