published Saturday, September 21st, 2013

Death sentence commuted for Cleveland woman's killer

A death row inmate convicted of the 1988 rape and murder of a Cleveland woman has had his death sentence commuted.

John Patrick Henretta was awaiting death for the murder, rape, kidnapping and robbery of 32-year-old Frances Rose Crabtree, who was attacked while working at the Salvation Army Thrift Store. She bled to death from stab wounds, according to an autopsy report.

But Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood ruled in August that Henretta's death is "imminent" because of his "dire physical state." Lawyers argued that execution would be a violation of the Constitution's Eighth Amendment, which protects against cruel and unusual punishment. Dr. Murray Smith told the court that Henretta suffers from high cholesterol, high blood pressure, skin cancer, prostate cancer, chronic hepatitis C, severe cirrhosis of the liver, and a backup of blood into the intestinal wall and spleen, among other maladies.

"Upon hearing Dr. Smith's testimony regarding the petitioner's physical and mental health conditions, the Court concludes that Mr. Henretta's physical state is such that his death is imminent," the judge wrote. "Simply put, the petitioner will not survive to the end of these post-conviction proceedings."

Crabtree's 1988 murder remained unsolved until 1994 when the Cleveland Police Department learned of a letter Henretta's accomplice wrote to a Pennsylvania federal judge providing details of the crime, according to a news release. Henretta was indicted in 1997 and convicted of first-degree premeditated murder in 2002. The Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the death sentence in a 2010 ruling.

At his April 2002 sentencing, newspaper archives show Henretta took responsibility for the crime.

"The Lord saved me, and I am ready to die," he said. "I'm going to live forever. Jesus Christ saved me, and nobody can ever take that away from me. I don't want you to have pity on me."

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at or 423-757-6249.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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