For the young widow of Tacoma, Washington businessman Robert Henry, September 11th is both the date of his cold-blooded murder, and the date that his murderer went to prison.
The lead detective on the case was Robert Yerbury, second of three generations of Yerburys serving on the Tacoma Police Department. Yerbury relentlessly pursued this case for six long years, making this the most extensive investigation in the history of Tacoma law enforcement.
Upon learning of the homicide, Paula Henry, Henry's wife, called police and identified Lawrence Shandola, her co-worker and Henry's former business partner, as a possible suspect. The police questioned Shandola that evening on the front porch of his home. Shandola denied knowledge of the homicide, stating that he had been repairing his house all day. Near the same time, police found shotgun shells at the crime scene, but no weapon.
April 1998, a shotgun was found under blackberry bushes on a hill near the parking lot where Henry died. Analysis showed that this was indeed the murder weapon. Next began a laborious search for the chain of ownership of the weapon.
"The investigation reached from as far as Canada , to the Caribbean and into states adjoining Washington and included thousands of pages of follow-up information," recalled Yerbury. "The weapon was, after five years, linked to Lawrence Shandola."
Before the police completed their investigation, two potential witnesses died. Jason Graham, who had provided the police with a description of a car parked near the crime scene, died in a car accident in August 1996. Roscoe Buffington, who had told police about seeing Shandola at his home on the day of the crime, died in July 1998.
On January 23, 2001, the State charged Shandola with first degree murder for Henry's homicide. The trial court denied Shandola's motions to suppress evidence and to dismiss the charge based on alleged discovery violations, and the matter proceeded to trial on July 2, 2001.
"Sixty four State witnesses and eighteen defense witnesses testified," recalled Detective Yerbury. "James Graham, Jason Graham's father, testified about the silver blue
Mercedes that he and his son had observed near the crime scene in the early afternoon of Henry's murder, a vehicle that was very similar in appearance to the Mercedes Shandola owned."
Henry's widow and his former acquaintances described the conflict between Shandola and Henry that arose out of their former business partnership. "The dispute between Henry and Shandola culminated in a 1993 New Year's Eve altercation," said Yerbury. "Shandola punched Henry, and Henry later sued Shandola, seeking a judgment to recover his medical damages."
Some of Shandola's co-workers testified that soon after the homicide, Shandola offered to sell them a shotgun and another co-worker who had cooperated with the police investigation testified that Shandola had threatened him. Paula Henry testified that she had obtained a restraining order against Shandola for harassing her after Henry's death.
Shandola presented an alibi defense, asserting, contrary to his earlier statement to the police, that he was at the home of a friend, Reta Peck, at the time of the murder. The jury rejected the defense and found Shandola guilty as charged. The court then denied Shandola's motion for arrest of judgment or, alternatively, for a new trial and, instead, he was found guilty as charged.
"Shandola was sentenced to 31.5 years in prison without possibility of parole," stated Yerbury with a detectable note of well-deserved pride, "On September 11th, 2001, exactly six years from the date of the murder of victim Robert Henry, Lawrence Shandola left on the chain to begin serving his sentence."
This case could have remained unsolved were it not for the unflagging dedication of Detective RobertYerbury, the ceaseless determination of the victim's widow, and a police department that spared no costs or efforts to bring the killer to justice.
Yerbury's father was on the Tacoma PD during the corruption scandals in the "old days" and emerged unscathed. Bob, also an honest and dedicated cop, has distinguished himself repeatedly with his fine work in solving homicides and treating people with compassion and understanding. His son was the third generation of Yerburys to proudly wear the badge of the Tacoma Police Department.