"It was as bad as you could ever imagine," Madison County Chief Deputy District Attorney Tim Gann tells PEOPLE.
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Rhonda Carlson
Rhonda Carlson
| Credit: Madison County Jail

An Alabama woman was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for her role in the murder of her bigamist husband's pregnant wife and members of her family, including two young children.

Rhonda Carlson, 48, pleaded guilty Oct. 27 in connection with the 2015 killings of Kristin Smallwood Henderson, the victim's unborn child, her mother Jean Smallwood, her eight-year-old son, Clayton Daniel Chambers, and her 1-year-old nephew, Eli Sokolowski.

Carlson, a mother of two, avoided the death penalty after she agreed to testify against her husband Christopher Henderson, who was the mastermind behind the killings.

At the time of the murders, Henderson was going through a divorce with Kristin, who was more than nine months pregnant.

He had left Carlson, whom he'd never legally divorced, for Kristin. But then, he reached out to her when things began deteriorating with Kristin "so they got back together, and they together devised this plot and carried it out," Madison County Chief Deputy District Attorney Tim Gann tells PEOPLE.

"[Carlson] was assuming they would get together and resume their marriage but Kristin was pregnant and she was only a few weeks away from delivery, and he was tied up with the divorce and possibly having to pay child support," says Gann. "I think this was an easy fix for them just to kill everybody. They kind of thought they would walk away."

"It was as bad as you could ever imagine," adds Gann. "It is really unspeakable."

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Gann says Henderson, a maintenance worker, was angry that he would have to pay child support to Kristin and possibly lose visitation rights for their child.

Henderson also held a grudge against his father-in-law, Kristin's father, because the father-in-law took Kristin in to live with him in his New Market home when the couple began having problems while throwing Henderson out, Gann says.

The original plan was to kill Kristin's father.

"They had originally planned to just kill the father but he felt like it would be worse on the father if he killed the rest of the family and the father had to live with it. So he killed everybody else in the family while the father was gone to work," says Gann.

Couple Initially Planned to Raise Victim's Baby: Prosecutor

On Aug, 5, the day of the killings, Henderson and Carlson drove over to the father-in-law's home just after Kristin had left to pick up her son Clayton from school.

Henderson went inside the house, and Carlson acted as a lookout "to make sure Kristin was coming to let him know to be ready," says Gann.

Henderson shot Kristin's mother, Smallwood, in the kitchen and then stabbed 15-month-old Eli multiple times while he lay in his bassinet in the nursery. He then waited for Kristin and Clayton to come home.

"When Kristin and Clayton went into the house, he killed Clayton first and then attacked Kristin in the garage area," he says.

In addition to shooting Kristin, Gann says, Henderson "stabbed her multiple times and cut the baby out of her womb and stabbed it."

Gann says at one point they planned to raise Kristin's baby.

"They actually planned together to take the baby and raise it," he says. "They were going to cut it out of the womb and take it and leave town with the baby and raise it."

After the murders, Carlson then came in with a gas can and they burned the house down.

Gann says both Henderson and Carlson were caught on security system video going in and out of the house.

Gann says Kristin's father died before the trial in the summer of 2020.

"He didn't make it to see the trial," he says. "He was heartbroken. He was such a good man. He was the man of the family, taking care of everything, provided a good living."

"Jean [Smallwood] was a schoolteacher, so she had retired so she could stay home and keep those grandkids," he added. "They are such good people."

Carlson's attorney Erin Atkins says Carlson "got in over her head."

"I think she really loved this man and I think she was manipulated by him and put a lot of her trust in him," she tells PEOPLE. "Our opinion is she was easily manipulated and influenced by him."

"Over time she came to grips with what happened and admitted to her role," she says.

Henderson was sentenced to death on October 14.

His attorney could not be reached for comment.