Paula Henry thought her nightmare was over when her husband’s killer was convicted of the murder, six years after the man shot her husband in the face with a shotgun. She was wrong. Now the killer is suing her and she's determined to change state law to defend grieving families against convicts seeking to sue their victims.
Her nightmare started on Sept. 11, 1995, when a masked man approached Henry’s husband Robert in the parking lot of the North Coast Electric Company and shot his car window before executing him with a shotgun blast to his head. Robert Henry was just 33. Witnesses in the parking lot saw the killing but could not identify the shooter, who fled on foot through a fence, and then drove away on a black motorcycle.
Paula Henry immediately fingered Larry Shandola as the likely killer. Shandola had been her husband’s business partner. Tacoma Police detectives spent five years gathering enough evidence for an arrest. Shandola and Henry worked at Tacoma Public Utilities during the span of the investigation, where Shandola, the prime suspect from the beginning, reportedly harassed Henry with details of the murder of her husband. The investigation included parts of Canada, the Caribbean and surrounding Pacific Northwest states. Shandola was eventually convicted, six years to the day of the murder. He was sentenced to 33 years in prison.
Paula Henry’s nightmare returned six years after Shandola was convicted when she heard a knock on her door. She was being served with legal papers that stated Shandola was suing her for violating his right to privacy and for causing him emotional distress for fighting to keep him from serving out his sentence in his native Canada rather than in Washington. He seeks $50,000 in damages from Henry and $50,000 from four other defendants.
Since the lawsuit filing a month and a half ago, Paula Henry has moved from her home out of fear that her husband’s killer knows where she lives and has contacted her. She is also fighting the lawsuit through John W. Ladenburg, former Pierce County Prosecutor and Executive now in private practice. She is also seeking a Legislative change that would make it illegal for convicts to sue their victims or their families. The proposed legal change would require court permission before convicts could file claims against their victims.
“You shouldn’t be able to kill someone and go to prison and then sue the victim’s widow and her friends for damages because they exercised their rights,” Ladenburg said. “He has cost thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees. There is a lot that goes into fighting one of these things.”
The lead investigator was Det. Robert Yerbury, who followed the leads wherever they went in what remains the most extensive investigation in the history of Tacoma law enforcement.
“Tacoma Police did a fantastic job,” Ladenburg said. “This guy was just really good at covering his tracks and it took a while to pull the investigation together.”
A judge is set to hear the case this week.