Henderson served prison time for a 1987 sexual assault

By Harriet Sokmensuer
Updated October 26, 2015 01:55 PM
Credit: Tarrant County Sheriff's Office

A Fort Worth, Texas, man is on trial for murdering a homeless man to steal his identity and stage his own death so he could escape prosecution for allegedly raping an underage female relative, PEOPLE confirms.

Michael Henderson allegedly raped a 16-year-old female relative in March of 2011, Tarrant County authorities tell PEOPLE. Eight days later, he allegedly fatally shot Gary Ali, a homeless man, authorities say. His trial started last Tuesday.

Samantha Jordan, Communications Officer at the Tarrant County District Attorneys Office, tells PEOPLE that Henderson was trying to stage his own death to escape prosecution.

“He chose someone with the same build, height and age,” Jordan says. “He put the homeless man in his car and put his [own] IDs in the car with him and left his wallet right next to the car, so that hopefully it would look like he [Henderson] was burned.”

Jordan added: “He would not have committed the murder if he hadn t committed the sexual assault.”

Officials are still trying to determine how Henderson might have known Ali, though Jordan said authorities believe the two may have worked together: Henderson owned a lawn care service that employed homeless people, Jordan says, and the victim, who was a prominent figure in the homeless community, might have helped Henderson connect with people looking for work.

Jordan said that authorities have spoken to relatives of Henderson, who said that before he allegedly killed Ali, he threatened he would commit suicide or have himself killed.

Henderson’s alleged sexual assault victim testified in court last week. She claimed that when she stepped out of the shower, Henderson called her into his bedroom and began giving her orders, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Henderson then allegedly made her lie down and take her towel off, and assaulted her for about 10 minutes, the woman testified, according to the paper.

Henderson has a history of sexual assault: In 1987, he was sentenced to 11 years and six months in prison after being found guilty of aggravated assault of a child younger than 14, the paper reports.

According to indictments obtained by PEOPLE, Henderson has also been charged for raping a teenage inmate while serving time in prison in 2013. He has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

Since the alleged sexual assault in 2011, Henderson, through family members, has repeatedly asked the alleged victim to recant her testimony, Jordan says.

Henderson stood mute in court for the murder charges against him. If convicted, he faces life in prison without parole.

“This is a very strange case,” Jordan says. “A very unique case.”

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.