Topeka — A man convicted of raping and killing a traveling businesswoman at a Lenexa motel will get a new trial.
The Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday that Rodney Wayne Henry did not get a fair trial because Claire-Marie Monti's mother was allowed to testify about her daughter.
Justices also wrote that the prosecutor was wrong to comment on the mother's testimony and to ask the jury to think about Mother's Day and how she must have felt.
"I respectfully disagree with the Kansas Supreme Court's opinion," Johnson County Dist. Atty. Paul Morrison said. "I will be more than happy to afford Mr. Rodney Wayne Henry a new jury trial."
Scott Gyllenborg, Henry's trial attorney, objected during the trial that the testimony could be "unfairly prejudicial." He argued that personal information about Monti, her character and her family relationships was irrelevant.
Monti, 32, of the Philadelphia suburb of Holland, Pa., was staying in the suburban Kansas City motel on business in April 1998.
Henry, now 28, and Carl Dean Rails, 39, were co-workers at a Kansas City remodeling business. They met Monti in the Westport entertainment district of Kansas City, Mo., and either followed her or accompanied her to her motel room, where she was beaten and strangled, according to testimony at Henry's trial.
Henry later confessed that he had been present when Rails beat and strangled Monti. He admitted helping Rails by pinning one of Monti's arms behind her back while Rails choked her. He also admitted helping Rails clean the room and dispose of evidence.
Henry maintained that he was terrified of Rails and that he had mental-health problems at the time of the killing.
In May 2000 a jury found Henry guilty of first-degree murder, rape and aggravated sodomy. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Rails pleaded guilty to the same charges and is serving a life sentence. The court opinion Friday does not affect his conviction.
According to the Supreme Court's decision, the testimony of Monti's mother was "clearly intended to inflame the passion and prejudice of the jury."
"The prosecutor's reference to the mother's grief and the introduction of the mother's testimony was not relevant to whether the defendant was afflicted by mental disease or defect at the time of the alleged crimes," the court ruled.