Man found guilty of fatally shooting his wife

VISTA — A jury deliberated for one day before reaching a guilty verdict Jan. 24 for Dontaye Henderson for the first-degree murder of his wife. The fatal shooting took place on New Year’s Day 2011 while the family was getting ready for church at their Oceanside apartment.

Henderson, 29, was also found guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm relating to the murder of Tamara Henderson, 25, at 2360 Paseo De Laura. The shooting happened in front of the couple’s 15-month-old son and Tamara’s 6-year-old daughter.

Dontaye Henderson, right, confers with his attorney during court proceedings. Henderson was found guilty Jan. 24 the first-degree murder of his wife Tamara Henderson New Year’s Day 2011. Photo by Shelli DeRobertis

The charge carries a prison term of 82 years to life, and San Diego County Superior Court Judge Robert Kearney set the sentencing for Feb. 23.

“All along I believed he did this on purpose. All along I believed he’ll get what he deserves,” said Elsie Billups, the victim’s mother, before the trial was over.

Billups said nothing less will suffice than for Dontaye Henderson to spend the rest of his life in jail.

Billups and her daughter were very close, she said. They would attend church and do things together, such as go out to lunch.

“He went through a number of steps to get that bullet through the spine of his wife,” said prosecutor Keith Watanabe during closing statements.

Henderson testified at his own trial that he accidentally shot his wife in the chest.

He said in court that they argued while he threatened suicide with a loaded gun that fired when his wife grabbed it to get it away from him.

Henderson spoke in a monotone voice, not showing any signs of sorrow as he talked about the shooting of his wife, even as he described her dying and the calls he made to 911.

But the prosecutor presented witnesses and the series of events that took place both before and after the fatal shooting, and the jury didn’t believe it was accidental.

“In no way, shape or form did he ever mention an accident,” Watanabe said. “It wasn’t written in reports.”

In summarizing the events, Watanabe said Henderson pulled the trigger once and the gun clicked, then he made a statement to his wife that if “that went bang, you wouldn’t be talking all that s—.”

His wife continued to argue with him; he racked another round in the gun, shot her, lied to the 911 operators, left his wife for dead, and ran away, Watanbe said.

Shortly afterward a text message was sent to a former girlfriend from a phone Henderson used that said, “I’ve left my wife for good. I’m flying out to see you.”

That woman testified in court, along with several other people, such as a neighbor, detectives, an ex-wife, a co-worker and even Tamara Henderson’s daughter Niya Mitchell, now 7, who was in the apartment with her toddler brother when her mother was shot.

Some of the testimonies described Henderson as a man who deceived those he knew and told blatant lies, and others spoke of his violent actions.

Deputy Public Defender Jack Campbell argued in court that his client, Dontaye Henderson, should be considered guilty of involuntary manslaughter, which carries a lesser penalty and stems from a reckless or negligent act.

“She grabs the gun. It goes off,” Campbell said.

He told the jury the act was reprehensible, but not murderous.

Since 2003, Henderson had been in and out of prison first for a spousal rape conviction of a former wife and then for parole violations.

But the jury was not allowed to hear about the 2003 rape conviction, which was ordered before the trial by the judge.

Billups has been raising the victim’s two children since the tragedy occurred.

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