For nearly four years after Matthew Christensen was fatally shot in the back room of a Lee’s Discount Liquor store, his coworker has been haunted by the memory of that night.
Jamie Henderson, the store’s assistant manager, was six months pregnant at the time. Christensen had lured the robbers away from her.
“I was terrified,” she said. “When I found Matt lying in the back, it was just an overwhelming sense of guilt, which I kept for a very, very, very long time.”
Christensen, 24, knew that Henderson could have opened the store’s safe after the killer demanded access.
“He never once said anything,” she said.
When Christensen couldn’t open the safe, he was shot five times.
“I could have opened the safe, and I didn’t,” Henderson said. “I was too frozen with fear to even move from the register to even say anything. I just stood there and cried the whole time. It made me feel somewhat like a coward. It made me feel guilty that a good person lost his life, defending me and my unborn child.”
On Wednesday, jurors convicted 26-year-old Ray Charles Brown of Christensen’s murder, along with eight other counts.
“I haven’t smiled this hard in a long time,” Henderson said. “This is exactly what we were hoping for.”
Last week, she sat through four days of testimony, including her own, and arguments in the trial for the gunman.
She listened to her own 911 call, played in the courtroom and heard by the defendant.
“We just got robbed at gunpoint,” she told the operator. “I need an ambulance, please.”
Inside the store at 8785 W. Warm Springs Road, a red pool lay near Christensen’s mouth, the back of his black shirt soaked in blood.
Henderson said he was still awake and breathing, but he couldn’t speak. She pressed a dry towel against a wound on his back. As he curled on his left side, dying, she tried to comfort him.
“It’s not something you can forget,” she said.
“If you ask my son ‘what’s your name?’ it’s always Benson Matthew James,” she said. “He always gets it backwards. He kind of knows the story. He knows that his middle name is Matthew because Matthew saved him, and Matthew died. And as he gets older, I want him to know all the details. Because I want him to know that Matt was a hero.”
On Thursday, prosecutors are expected to ask jurors to sentence Brown to death.