CENTENNIAL – A Colorado man and his mother will serve life in prison without parole for murdering a witness who had cooperated with police investigating a suburban Denver marijuana store robbery.
A judge on Thursday set the sentences for 26-year-old Terance Black and 51-year-old Tina Black for their convictions on first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
A jury convicted the pair last week. Tina Black also was convicted on charges of conspiracy to commit burglary and aggravated robbery.
The investigation revealed a dangerous flaw in the record system used by Colorado’s state courts.
The cooperating witness’ name was included in court records mistakenly released by a judge in 2016 and passed onto the Blacks by someone else, Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said.
Police believed the information could be part of an investigation into the midday armed robbery at a suburban Denver marijuana store in August 2016.
Prosecutors said Terance Black found out about Henderson’s cooperation with police while he was out on bond for the robbery charges. They said Henderson was shot 10 times, including once in the head.
Deputy District Attorney Andrew Steers asked the court to “send a message” by granting the maximum sentences for each charge.
The case “goes to the heart of who we are as a country and the heart of our judicial system,” he said.
Prosecutors got court approval to seal records and keep the case off public schedules before Thursday’s sentencing hearing, arguing that witnesses testifying against the Blacks feared for their lives.
Defense attorneys said in court Thursday that the Blacks insist they did not kill Henderson. Terance Black did not speak during the hearing, while Tina Black gave a brief statement professing her innocence.
A spokesman for the Colorado courts system said the cause of the mistaken records release was fixed this summer after Brauchler’s office notified administrators.
Spokesman Rob McCallum said in several districts, warrants signed by judges were automatically being released to all parties connected to a case including defendants and witnesses.
Officials estimated 1,500 cases were affected. Officials said they are not aware of any other case of a defendant accused of targeting or threatening witnesses based on mistakenly released court records.
The updated system, which was implemented in August, requires judges to specifically choose which parties receive those court files, McCallum said.
Brauchler said he is satisfied with the changes but worries about lasting damage to the relationship between authorities and witnesses to crimes.
“This is the nightmare scenario,” he said.
Henderson’s sister said her family has struggled to recover from his death. The easygoing man with a knack for car repairs was afraid of retribution but he still wanted to help, Karen Henderson said.
“He didn’t have the proper protection,” she said. “It’s just a shame his life got taken for trying to do the right thing.”