Jill and Phil Henderson, the parents of Zakynthos murder victim Bakari Henderson, are returning to Greece this week for the retrial of the men accused of their son’s killing in 2017. The 21-year-old American clothing designer was killed there after being chased out of a bar by a group of young men, consisting of seven Serbian nationals, one Greek man and a British man of Serbian origin.
After having had to deal with the lack of a murder conviction in an earlier trial, the second legal procedure, coming on February 21, four years after the crime, is especially brutal for his family, who live in Austin, Texas.
Henderson, a recent graduate from the University of Arizona in Business Finance and Entrepreneurship, had been on a trip to the idyllic Greek island to shoot photographs for his new clothing line, which was just about to be revealed.
Bakari Henderson was “A Quiet Storm”
On his second trip to the country, Bakari Henderson was already a seasoned world traveler, having visited China, China, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, England, Monaco, and Colombia — using money he had saved from his various business ventures.
His parents describe the ambitious young man as having “a singular focus: to build a business empire and demonstrate what it means to live fully and fearlessly.”
His motto for life was “Plan B is for those who are not confident in their Plan A.” They add that “He was confident about his plan in life, inquisitive about all things financial and global and relentless in achieving his goals as an entrepreneur.
“Bakari was a quiet storm who shared his love and compassion with family and friends, by sharing thoughtful sentiments and encouraging words.”
“What Would Your Expectations Be?”
In a previous interview with Greek Reporter, Jill Henderson spoke of her expectations for the newly-rescheduled trial.
Greek Reporter asked the Hendersons if there was any particular message they would like to send to the Greek people before the upcoming trial.
“We’d like the Greek people to know that Bakari was a young, compassionate, intelligent man with a lot of promise,” Jill replied.
“His life mattered, as every other human’s does, and we would like everyone to take several minutes to reflect internally on how you’d feel if you had a son, brother, grandson, nephew or even a friend brutally murdered by a vicious mob and left in the street to die like a dog… what would your expectations be?”
Parents of Zakynthos murder victim “Hopeful but Not Optimistic”
On Thursday in an interview for CBS Mornings, Gayle King asked Jill Henderson if she was more optimistic this time around. Henderson hesitated before replying with a wry smile “I want to be. I’ll say that. I want to be. I’m trying to be. It just was so devastating last time to have all that optimism and then… have it thrown in your face at the last minute.”
Back in January of 2021, Jill Henderson had told local Austin reporters that she was “hopeful but not optimistic” regarding the upcoming trial, explaining that back in 2018 “We were almost certain the outcome would be in our favor and they would be (convicted of) intentional murder.”
However, “The positive thing,” she added, “is they granted a retrial, and from what we’ve heard, retrials aren’t that common.”
The January trial was continued, however, and was rescheduled. However, it was continued once again due to the coronavirus restrictions in Greece. The appeals court, consisting of three judges and four jurors, must now decide whether or not to affirm the decision from the lower court or reverse it and find some or all of the defendants guilty of murder.
Henderson died after being kicked and beaten in the street following an argument in a bar in the popular Laganas resort area of Zakynthos island in July of 2017. It was revealed at the first trial that he had died within 30 seconds of running out onto the street in his effort to escape his attackers.
His parents were in the courtroom on November 22, 2018 — now, more than three years ago — as the original sentences, ranging from five to 15 years in prison, were handed down. But none of the sentences were for the crime of murder — or even the equivalent of manslaughter.
“A man’s life here in Greece doesn’t mean anything”
After the sentencing, Phil Henderson told CBS News outside the court that he “can’t understand. A man’s life here in Greece doesn’t mean anything.”
“You should not be able to chase a man down and beat him to death and not go to jail,” Jill Henderson added, before breaking down in tears.
The prosecution had been seeking a murder conviction for six of the suspects, complicity in committing murder for one of the others and causing bodily harm for the remaining two.
It says it will appeal the verdict.
There were nine defendants on trial — seven Serbian nationals, one Greek and a British man of Serbian origin. Three were completely exonerated — and all claimed that they had not intended to kill Henderson.
The British national was given the most severe sentence, of up to 15 years in prison, for “causing grievous bodily harm.” One of the Serbs was sentenced to 10 years, three others received seven years and another five years — all for lesser charges of assault.
At the time of the first trial, Jill Henderson told USA Today “I hate to assume, but it felt like it started as anti-American and then escalated into a hate crime because he was African-American.”
Andreas Patsis, a Greek lawyer retained by the Henderson family, was quoted in the same USA Today article as saying “There are already hints of strong anti-Americanism sentiment among the Serbians involved. Despite how there was no provocation, the Serbs attacked Bakari and focused only on him, who was an African-American.”
Jill Henderson created a charity in the name of her beloved son, called the Bakari Foundation, whose mission is to provide “transformative travel experiences for families who have lost loved ones at the hands of another.”
Determined to take their grief and make a positive difference in the lives of others, the Henderson family reached out to the family of the American scientist Suzanne Eaton two years ago, sending an open letter to them through the press after she was killed by a man on Crete.
The letter began:
“As you are aware, grieving the loss of a loved one is the most painful experience you can go through. You find yourself displaying an extraordinary smile that lights up a room, yet you are broken on the inside and your soul cries out in the dark. Please remember that although you are broken, you are not defeated because “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18 ESV).