An Albemarle County man will serve 25 years in prison for the murder of Angela Lynn Lax, whose dismembered remains were found in 2018.
Robert Christopher Henderson, 38, was convicted of second-degree murder after accepting a plea agreement last year. During Monday’s sentencing in Albemarle County Circuit Court, Henderson sat in the intimate upstairs courtroom, his eyes occasionally glancing at the crowded audience.
Henderson was arrested in December 2018 after Lax’s skeletal remains were found the month prior in a wooded area in the 1200 block of the John W. Warner Parkway in Albemarle, police said.
Though she was reported missing in August 2018, authorities believe she was killed in June of that year. Henderson and Lax had been neighbors.
Armin D. Zijerdi, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney for the county, urged Judge Humes J. Franklin to sentence Henderson on the high end of the sentencing guidelines, highlighting the savage nature of the crime.
“This man poses a danger to society and needs to be kept away as long as possible,” Zijerdi said. “Not even just because of the murder — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — but a murder where he is capable of dismembering a human body.”
Early in the investigation, Andrew Holmes, a detective with the county police department, said police came to suspect Henderon’s involvement in Lax’s disappearance. Henderon’s story did not add up, Holmes testified Monday, and the police had evidence of the defendant using Lax’s credit card not long after she disappeared.
The police came to believe Henderson stabbed Lax multiple times and subsequently dismembered her body with a hacksaw, scattering her remains behind his home. Not all of Lax’s remains had been recovered, but cadaver dogs were able to locate her skull first, which contained a metal plate that helped to identify it as that of Lax.
Additionally, Holmes said police uncovered evidence that the basement had been professionally cleaned and the carpet and subflooring replaced.
“Some residents around the area said there was a smell of cleaning agents mixed with what was described to us as ‘the smell of death,’” Holmes said.
A bloody handprint later identified as Henderson’s was found on the door to the basement, and the blood was determined to be a mixture of that of Lax and Henderson.
David Eustis, Henderson’s attorney, provided evidence of Henderson’s history of mental illness, namely schizoaffective disorder, which can lead to delusions and violence if left untreated.
Eustis called on Sharon Kelley, a University of Virginia professor and expert on clinical forensic psychology, to present more evidence on the disorder.
Those with schizoaffective disorder can often present aberrant and violent behavior when presented with heightened stress, she said. Kelley authored a psychological evaluation of Henderson, and said that a change in medication had helped him to manage his symptoms since being incarcerated.
“It is a lifelong disorder,” she said during cross-examination. “This is something he will deal with for his whole life.”
Two former employers of Henderson were called as defense witnesses, each describing him as a polite worker who was not sagacious enough to manage stressful situations, often getting easily overwhelmed.
As part of the prosecution’s case, Bonnie Brown, Lax’s mother, testified to the impact her daughter’s death has had on her and her family.
A longtime nurse, Brown said she was dedicated to preserving life and healing others; the idea of taking someone else’s life was unthinkable to her.
“This courtroom is not a place I ever expected to be,” she said. “A murdered child is something that happens to other people, but not me, I said to myself.”
Lax was a dedicated worker who loved horses and riding, Brown said. Lax had dreamed of starting a program allowing children with physical and mental disabilities to ride horses, Brown said, a goal she was able to accomplish, allowing many children access to a unique experience they would not have otherwise had.
Lax leaves behind two children and two grandchildren, as well as many other loving family members, Brown said.
“The natural order of life says that children will bury their parents,” she said. “I have only pieces of bones, discarded behind someone’s living quarters.”
During closing arguments, Zijerdi said he anticipated the defense would argue mental illness, but claimed that this only bolstered evidence for incarceration. Henderson’s treatment in jail has led to positive growth, he said, something he may not be able to achieve outside of confinement.
Franklin sentenced Henderson to the commonwealth’s requested term of 40 years, with 15 years suspended. Upon release, he will be subject to five years of supervised probation, the first year of which to be “highly supervised,” according to Franklin.
Henderson currently is being held at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.