Family of slain man in Greek island still awaiting justice

Bakari Henderson, a 22-year-old Arizona University graduate, killed in Zakynthos, Greece, on July 7, 2017. (Courtesy of the Henderson Family)ATHENS – The alleged killers of Bakari Henderson, a 22-year-old Texan beaten to death on the Greek island of Zakinthos a year ago this month, are slated to go to trial in the fall as the family continues to wait for justice.

The trial, which has yet to be assigned a start date, is expected to raise issues of racism and anti-Americanism in Europe.

Henderson died outside a bar on July 7 last year at the tourist resort of Laganas when a Serbian woman took a selfie with him and his friend.

A man labeled as one of the defendants – whose identities largely remain protected due to European privacy laws – then approached the woman.

“There are so many Serbs in this bar,” said the man, according to the April indictment obtained by USA Today recently. “Why are you talking to a black guy?”

The man then threw a glass at a table in front of the Serbian woman. When Henderson talked back to the man, the defendant slapped him. Henderson reacted by punching him and hitting him with a beer bottle, according to the indictment.

Later, while exiting the bar, Henderson called at the defendants: “Come here, come.”

The group reacted by throwing different objects at him, then following him and fatally assaulting him. In an 11-second attack, they struck him 33 times, court papers said.

The Greek coroner concluded that the death occurred from brain injuries that occurred from a solid object. The indictment alleged that Henderson suffered repeated, severe kicks and punches to his head, neck, and torso. One of the defendants, a 34-year-old male, was using brass-knuckles to hit Henderson, according to the indictment.

The Misdemeanors Board of Zakinthos, a three-judge panel on the island, ruled that seven of the nine co-defendants must remain in prison until they’re found guilty or innocent. Two other defendants were set free but must also stand trial.

Henderson had just graduated from the University of Arizona, where he majored in finance and entrepreneurship. He was launching a line of casual sportswear and was in Zakinthos for a photoshoot. Just hours after his death, he was supposed to board a plane to Spain to shoot a promotional video for his clothing line.

His family in Texas believe he was targeted due to his race and nationality.

“I hate to assume,” said Jill Henderson, Bakari’s mother, from her home in Texas. “But it felt like it started as anti-American and then escalated into a hate crime because he was African-American. But, of course, we have to hear what they (the defendants) say about it.”

Henderson and two friends were in the bar but only he was targeted by the defendants.

The Henderson family plans to travel to Greece in the fall, where the trial will take place at the Mixed Jury Court of Patras, a southern Greek city. The jury will be made of three judges and four citizens. The defendants face charges of first-degree murder, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment in Greece.

The Greek lawyer for the Hendersons’, Andreas Patsis, believes justice will favor Bakari.

“That’s why the trial will hold surprises,” said Patsis. “We’ll find out the true motives of the killing during the trial – there are already hints of strong anti-Americanism sentiment among the Serbians involved. Despite how there was no provocation, the Serbs attacked Bakari and focused only on him, who was an African-American.”

But the lawyer representing the 34-year-old defendant accused of using brass knuckles disputed Patsis' version of the events.

“For us the indictment has positive parts,” said Thanasis Tartis, the lawyer of the 34-year-old who admits to punching Henderson three to four times with his left hand. “The indictment accepts that my client was using his left arm, his weak arm, to hit the young man, because his right arm was broken in a cast. So my client couldn’t have had enough strength with his weak arm to cause life-threatening injuries. For us, it’s a matter of proving that he wasn’t carrying any object in his hand.”

Meanwhile, the tourist season has started in Greece, also in Laganas, where tourists flock to take advantage of the sun and weeklong package deals from Serbia and the UK for just $300, including happy hours with $1.25 drinks.

“I’ve never sold drinks so cheap because it’s impossible to even communicate with the clients after a while,” said Giannis Aridakis-Kefallinos, owner of the Ocean Inn bar in Zakinthos.

Still, he said despite all the partying, he believes things are changing in Laganas following Henderson’s death.

“There’s more policing," he said. "Instead of bouncers, there are more licensed security guards, and the police have gone after those trying to illegally sell laughing gas to tourists trying to get high.”

Back in Texas, the Henderson family waits for justice. They have also created a foundation in honor of their son, with proceeds of Bakari’s clothing line to be donated to the Bakari Foundation.

“The foundation’s cause is to help families similar to ours that lost loved-ones in a tragic situation,” said Jill Henderson. “We provide to them the travel experience abroad, so they can have time together to start their healing process, but also help them with council services, legal fees, and things like that.”

A version of this story can be found on USA Today.
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