Oklahoma City, OK -- March 27, 1992 -- After spending 19 months in the Oklahoma County jail, Lane Russell Henley was freed after state prosecutors dropped two first-degree murder charges against him.
Prosecutors said they could not prove that Henley killed sisters Cheryl Genzer, 25, and Lisa Pennington, 17, after a key witness recanted his testimony.
The two young women's decomposed bodies were found 27 days after they disappeared in shallow graves. Henley was arrested in Texas three years later.
Douglas Eugene Lawson, 26, testified that he lied two years ago when he said he saw Henley, 35, strike Genzer with a handgun and club her sister with a shovel outside Henley's house several hours after the sisters left the state fairgrounds with the men.
"With Mr. Lawson backing up on his testimony, we didn't have a case," said Gary Ackley, assistant district attorney.
Lawson was arrested on perjury charges moments after his testimony. Ackley said prosecutors will also seek to refile three felony drug charges against Lawson which were dropped in exchange for his testimony against Henley.
A fellow jail inmate hugged Henley in the courtroom after District Judge Dan Owens announced he had granted the prosecution's motion to dismiss the charges.
A smiling Henley said only that he was now going to "get a real life."
Prosecutors said they didn't want to risk an acquittal in the case. The murder counts could eventually be refiled against Henley, but Ackley would not speculate on future charges except to say that the investigation is continuing.
Henley's attorney, assistant public defender David Autry, proclaimed that his client was innocent.
"They have no case against him," Autry said. "This has been a terribly long ordeal for Mr. Henley. He's been in jail 19 months for two murders he did not commit. " Oklahoma City police, frustrated with being unable to solve the murders, pressured Lawson to incriminate Henley, Autry claimed.
Lawson also perjured himself to keep from being prosecuted on the drug charges, Autry said.
The victims' brother, Alan Pennington, had a different opinion about why Lawson changed his story.
"Somebody got to him," Pennington said. "Or maybe he thinks he was going to go down with (Henley). "
Pennington said he was upset by the district attorney's decision to drop the charges, but expected it after Lawson recanted his testimony.
"I still feel it should be up to the jury to decide if there is enough evidence or not," he said. "I still feel there is. "
Pennington, who was to testify, said he hopes prosecutors will refile the charges.
"They have the right man now," he said.
Judy Busch, of the Homicide Survivors Support Group, which has been assisting the victims' parents, said they were sickened by the dismissal.
"(The victims' parents) felt they were finally going to get their day in a court," Busch said. "Now we're back to square one and it's devastating. "
Sept. 24, 1992 -- The fifth anniversary of the day two sisters disappeared from the state fairgrounds in Oklahoma City their father and mother spent the anniversary visiting their daughters' graves.
The bullet riddled bodies of Cheryl Genzer, 25, and Lisa Pennington, 17, were found 27 days later dumped in shallow graves, and two men were accused of taking part in the murders. Yet, no one has been convicted in the slayings.
Placing flowers on their daughters' graves becomes harder with each anniversary that goes by without a conviction in the case, Rocky Pennington said.
"I tell my girls we're trying to do something," he said. But "it's upsetting to go out there with no answers. " Pennington complains he fears prosecutors have given up on the case.
Oklahoma County prosecutors are still investigating but have become frustrated in their efforts to nail down evidence.
"We're re-reviewing it to see if we have a presentable and a prosecutable case against the two men we still consider the prime suspects," said Ray Elliott, assistant district attorney and chief of the criminal division.
Lane Russell Henley was first questioned the week the bodies were found, and was charged with first-degree murder. The charge was dropped and Henley was freed earlier this year when a key witness recanted testimony.
Doug Lawson, the witness who recanted, once said he and Henley met the sisters at the state fair and went with them to a house where they smoked marijuana, drank beer and snorted cocaine.
Henley raped the younger sister, Pennington, when the other two went to get more beer, Lawson testified. When the older sister confronted him, Henley knocked her out with a blow from a revolver and hit the younger girl with a shovel, Lawson said.
Henley maintains his innocence in the slayings.
This month Lawson was sent to prison for five years on a perjury charge, after saying he made up the story.
Authorities may be thinking, "We'll just sit back and wait until one confesses to it or talks to somebody else about it," said the girls' mother, Charlette Pennington.
Elliott defended the investigation, saying prosecutors could not afford to operate on an emotional level as can family members.
"Lurking out there is the problem of double jeopardy. We don't want to file the charge and later get jeopardy attached if a jury is sworn in and then it's dismissed. That means we could never try the case again," Elliott said.