After 40 years of federal service to his country and the judicial system — including 20 in the Marine Corps — Assistant U.S. Attorney Dave Henderson is retiring from a career highlighted by noteworthy cases and distinguishing honors.
Henderson’s career in law included a couple of famous cases including, while serving as Judge Advocate General officer in the Marine Corps, the representation of Marine Sgt. Clayton J. Lonetree, convicted of spying for the Soviets in the 1980s, and Marine Private Douglas Beane, a cook who deserted his post in Vietnam in1970 and fled to Australia.
Beane, who fled to Australia and lived there for nearly two decades after the Vietnam War, was discharged under other than honorable conditions after the Marines decided against a court martial. He could have faced desertion and other charges that might have brought him up to 18 years of hard labor, according to Henderson.
“Beane’s father was dying from cancer,” said Lois Henderson, Dave’s wife. “In order for him to return to the United States, the Marine Corps was going to put him on trial for desertion. My husband was able to get him off.”
Sgt. Lonetree, the first U.S. Marine to be convicted of spying, was stationed in Moscow as a guard at the U.S. Embassy in the early 1980s. He confessed in 1987 to selling documents to the Soviet Union. When he was assigned to Vienna, Austria, he was seduced by a 25-year-old Soviet officer named “Violetta Seina” and then blackmailed into surrendering documents to the KGB.
“He worked with her at the embassy in Moscow, started dating her and fell in love,” Lois said. “She was a KGB agent, and she brought him to ‘Uncle Sasha’ (a man identified as a KGB operative).”
Lonetree was tried in a military court in Quantico, Va., and convicted of espionage on Aug. 21, 1987.
“They were going to kill him and my husband got them to change that to 25 years,” Lois said. “He then got on board with another attorney in D.C. on the appellate case and (Lonetree) only served eight years. If Sgt. Lonetree would have only got a hold of a decent attorney (initially, instead of turning himself in to CIA), my husband said nothing would have happened to him. He went to the Central Intelligence Agency to say, ‘Help me, I’m in too deep.’ Lonetree didn’t have any information that the Russians didn’t already know about.”
There were several books written about the Lonetree case, including “Dancing with the Devil” by Rodney Barker. The 1992 Academy Award nominated picture “A Few Good Men” was based on a case that Dave took part in, as well.
Dave said he was requested as individual military counsel on a murder case with Debra Sorkin, a young female Navy lawyer without much experience, and they got to know each other pretty well. Both also worked the Guantanamo Bay case in Cuba involving a hazing gone awry.
“When ‘A Few Good Men’ came out, a lawyer who worked with me called me and said ‘Dave, that’s the Bill Smith case.’ It had to do with a case that I had. This was the guy who was the platoon commander in ‘A Few Good Men.’ These Marines had a ‘code red’ on (another Marine); they didn’t actually kill him, but they beat him up pretty bad.”
The enlisted guys were prosecuted, Dave said, and the defendant had all charges dropped due to an administrative error involving the Speedy Trial Rule.
“Obviously, I had gotten very familiar with the case and what had happened down in Guantanamo. It was clearly obviously the same case. I wondered how the heck they got that case, and then I saw the movie and noticed who the screenwriter was — Aaron Sorkin. I realized this was the brother of the Navy lieutenant that I did the murder case with — Debra Sorkin. She had represented one of the enlisted guys that was involved in the case. So that’s how Aaron had gotten the story for the screenplay of ‘A Few Good Men.’”
Dave said he also had the pleasure of escorting James and Margie Pierce, the brother and sister-in-law of Barbara Bush, during President George H.W. Bush’s inauguration.
“It was a very interesting occasion,” Dave said. “We spent several days going around Washington making sure we knew how to get from where they were staying to the Kennedy Center and to all the different places we had to go. It was a good, fun time. I really enjoyed meeting with the Pierces.”
In spite of all these interesting cases and opportunities to meet famous people, Dave said it’s not those cases that were the most important to him.
“It’s the smaller cases — where I can present them at the right time and at the right place — and when I can get charges dismissed for a client. They mean just as much to me as the big cases, where you are being watched by the people you work for and don’t get as much freedom as you may have on the smaller ones.”
Judge Bob Wortham, presiding judge of the 58th District Court in Jefferson County, was the man who initially hired Dave in Southeast Texas.
“The funny thing about Dave … when we hired him off the East Coast, I thought he was going to be one of these real city boys,” Wortham said. “And he moves down here and moves up to Warren and turns into one of the biggest country boys you will find. Wearing his overalls, growing a full beard — I mean he went from being clean as a whistle to a real product of deep East Texas.
All jokes aside, Wortham said Dave would be sorely missed.
“He has always been a real workhorse for us,” he said. “Anything you give him, he will take it. He always has a smile on his face and is always willing to work and is a tremendous asset to the office.”
Dave says his 40 years of service have been exciting, enriching, and have allowed him great opportunities to help his fellow citizens, whether it be in the position of defense or prosecution. But every good thing must come to an end, and he plans to spend his retirement getting back to his roots.
“I live up in Tyler County, and I have 70 acres up there,” he said. “And I’ve been raising horses, raising longhorns, and raising birddogs since I’ve been up there. I’m looking to be able to spend some time going back to being a farmer and rancher.”
While his career may be over, Assistant U.S. Attorney Dave Henderson’s service will continue, even throughout his retirement. Dave said he would be holding lifestyle meetings and offering counseling in Tyler County area prisons.
“I just started working as a volunteer counselor in the prison in Woodville,” Dave said.
A retirement reception will be held for Dave on Friday, Sept. 28, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, 350 Magnolia St., Beaumont.