crime & courts

Prosecutor in important murder case reprimanded for conflict of interest

A prosecutor who pursued a book deal about one of his cases before the case closed won’t be suspended but was publicly reprimanded last week by the Indiana Supreme Court.

Keith A. Henderson, the elected prosecutor in Floyd County, Indiana, is the Indiana representative for the National District Attorneys Association and the chairman of the ethics committee for the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council.

The Indiana Supreme Court determined the book deal he pursued was an ethical conflict of interest with the unfinished case.

The case concerned David Camm, a former police officer who was charged with murdering his wife and two children. Camm was convicted twice, but his convictions were reversed on appeal. He was acquitted in 2013.

The case dragged on in Indiana courts for 13 years and received national attention. It got frequent play in newspapers and on cable news and was even the subject of an episode, titled “Murder on Lockhart Road,” on CBS’ “48 Hours.” Henderson prosecuted Camm’s second trial and, according to Indiana Supreme Court documents, entered into an agreement with a literary agent to write a book about the case just days after a jury found Camm guilty for the second time.

Henderson continued to work the case as it trickled into post-trial proceedings and then signed an agreement with a publisher. Shortly after the Indiana Supreme Court overturned the conviction of the second trial and remanded for a third trial, Henderson wrote his literary agent asking for a “pushed back timeframe” and for the agent to “push for something more out of the contract,” according to Indiana Supreme Court documents.

“This is now a bigger story,” he wrote.

Rather than expand the contract, the publisher terminated it.

When Henderson refiled murder charges against Camm for the third trial in December 2009, Camm requested a special prosecutor to replace Henderson. The court denied his request. Camm appealed the decision, and Henderson was removed from the case in 2011.

Henderson did not respond to a request for 

After he was acquitted, Camm filed a $30 million lawsuit against Floyd County that alleged malicious prosecution. Henderson was named in the suit, which was settled in August 2016, and the state awarded $450,000 to Camm.

There are explicit rules about professional conduct with book deals for legal counsel, said professor Charles Geyh, who teaches judicial conduct and ethics in the Maurer School of Law. Lawyers are allowed to 
pursue book deals about their cases — and it’s not uncommon to do so — but the rules dictate they should wait until after the case is completely finished.

“You want to represent your client to the best of your ability without being compromised by your own interests, and in the case of a prosecutor, the client is the public,” Geyh said.

Once there’s a book deal on the table, the lawyer could make decisions that lead to a better book rather than swifter or truer justice.

“The worry is you’ll be more motivated by the theatrics that sell books than what best serves the case, which in some cases may be dull or dreary things,” Geyh said.

In a written public order, the Indiana Supreme Court found Henderson’s behavior with the book deal “adversely affected the administration of justice” in Camm’s case.

Although the disciplinary commission had recommended Henderson be suspended, the Indiana Supreme Court ordered a public reprimand.

Although the Indiana Supreme Court chose a less severe punishment, Geyh said the reprimand will be “a black mark” on Henderson’s record that could cost him in the future.

It may have done so already — Henderson lost a race for a judge’s seat in Floyd County Circuit Court in November after the disciplinary commission recommended his suspension.

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