At a hearing last week, a Philadelphia judge upheld first-degree murder charges against Malika Henderson, 19, who is accused of stabbing a 40-year-old man to death with a piece of glass.
But Malika's parents claim that Malika has mental health problems, has been in state custody since she was an infant, has been the repeated victim of sexual abuse since childhood, and was herself stabbed in the throat just three years ago.
“It’s tragic because this child’s been locked up her whole life and medicated,” said father Victor Henderson.
A city Department of Human Services employee said that DHS will neither confirm nor deny whether a minor was in DHS custody. A DHS spokesperson did not respond to further requests for comment.
As a minor, Malika was a plaintiff in a class action lawsuit filed against DHS in 2008 alleging that the agency was not providing safe environments for all the children in their custody and was violating federal law. DHS serves about 100,000 children a year.
That suit ended with an settlement that the court would supervise DHS’ continued best efforts to comply with the 37 recommendations made by the Child Welfare Review Panel, created by former Mayor John Street.
However, Malika continued to be in DHS custody, as the custody case was handled separately in Family Court.
Brian Jones, Malika's step-father, claimed that when Malika was 17, she was stabbed in the neck while in a residential facility. At age 7, he said, she was removed from a foster home due to being sexually abused.
“They found out she had been raped. She had been raped for a long time,” Jones said. “You could look at the child, she didn’t have no life in her eyes or nothing.”
Malika’s mother, Veronica Spencer, 42, said DHS removed Malika from her custody as an infant because of Spencer's marijuana use, and removed several of her other eight children as well. But she believes Malika endured worse abuse after being removed from the home.
“Malika doesn’t know anything but being beaten from before she was grown,” Spencer said.
Spencer and Jones claimed that Malika was separately involved in altercations with staff members and fellow residents of the various facilities she lived in, some of which were in other states.
Spencer described Malika’s abuse as including a broken arm at age 5, and a venereal disease at age 9. She said Malika was sexually abused many times, but could not say exactly when, where, or how many times.
“She was always sexually abused, so sex was always on her mind,” Spencer said.
As of her 18th birthday in September 2012, Malika was released from DHS custody. A social work agency specializing in mental health issues placed her in the North Conestoga Street home where she resided when this murder occurred, Henderson said.
“The day before the incident happened, she told me this guy is biting her. She had bite marks all over her,” Henderson said. “I told her to get out of there and go to her grandmother’s house. She didn’t go. Then I heard about this happening.”
Neighbor Antoinette Bowens testified last week that she saw Malika stab Andre Monroe, 40, who lived in a different room in the same house, after an argument around 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 21.
Monroe had thrown Malika’s possessions into the yard and told her to leave, Bowens said.
After demanding to be let in, Malika smashed the windows in the front of the house and the door, Bowens said. When Monroe still did not let her in, she took a shard of glass from a window and stabbed him with it, she said.
The wound did not immediately start bleeding and Monroe attacked Malika. After neighbors pulled him off, Malika kicked him in the stab wound, and then Monroe began to bleed, Bowens said. He was pronounced dead at 1:40 p.m., according to police repots.
Malika fled half a block to a Rite Aid pharmacy. Bowens said that after being arrested, Malika was laughing to herself in the back of a police car.
The medical examiner found two pieces of glass inside Monroe’s abdomen.
Malika’s next court date is March 5.
“I just pray that she doesn’t get life [in prison] because it’s not fair,” Spencer said. “I just feel they did this to her. They destroyed her life. I had a baby for nothing, that’s how I feel. They took her from me.”