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Bakari Henderson trial: "Necessary" witness may not show up to testify in Greece

Parents speak ahead of Bakari Henderson trial
Key witness may not testify in trial of American killed in Greece 05:24

Phil and Jill Henderson, parents of a 22-year-old American who was beaten to death on Greek island of Zakynthos, kept a positive outlook this week as they began a journey for justice. CBS News spoke to them as they set out to face the alleged killers of their son, Bakari Henderson, in a trial set to begin Friday.

"Justice for me and my family would be that the guys who did this... would definitely get the max sentence for what they've done to this family," Phil told "CBS This Morning: Saturday" co-host Michelle Miller.

There are nine defendants, mostly of Serbian descent. Six could face a life sentence if convicted of voluntary manslaughter. Three others face lesser charges.

The brutal beating of Bakari was captured on video and prosecutors are said to be confident they have a strong case. But CBS News has learned an important witness likely won't be in court to testify. 

Bakari was in Greece last year on a photo shoot for a clothing line he was launching. Three friends who were with him have also been summoned to testify. But multiple sources tell CBS News one of those friends is unlikely to show up.

"We know from speaking to the family that he's been having a hard time with it," Phil said.

Jill said she thinks "he's fearful."

"Probably just based on, you know, what he saw happen to Bakari, and to know that you have to testify against those same individuals I think is causing him some fear," she added.  

Neither the friend nor his family responded to messages from CBS News.

Earl Ward, the Hendersons' lawyer, said the video gives prosecutors a strong case, but first-hand accounts would add invaluable context.

"We need that witness," Ward said, adding, "He's an eyewitness to the vicious assault on Bakari. He saw what happened to this young man. And so he's necessary." 

Surveillance video shows what the defendants allegedly did to Bakari, chasing him down the street, knocking him off his feet, and beating him to death.

"His face was bruised and swollen," Jill paused, "to the point where we put sunglasses on him when we buried him."

A Serbian woman told investigators it started when she posed for a selfie with Bakari. She claimed a man nearby said, "There are a lot of Serbs in the bar. Why are you talking to a black guy?" Security footage shows the man struck Bakari in the face. Moments later, Bakari hit back and others got involved as the scuffle moved outside.

Video from another camera, which has not been seen publicly until now, shows Bakari backing up, kicking one of his attackers, and walking away before another man began throwing barstools at him. According to a court filing, a witness claimed Bakari was "verbally provoking" the attackers, shouting: "Come here, come."

"In my mind words don't kill people, so – so yeah, I don't – that's not justification to kill anyone," Jill said.

The court has called Phil to testify about his son, who only weeks before the attack had graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in business finance and entrepreneurship. 

Jill and Phil have waited 14 months for this trip, but even now, they said it still feels unreal.

"Do you imagine looking at those men's faces while you sit in court?" Miller asked.

"I haven't gone there yet, truthfully," Jill said.

"How about you, Phil? Have you gone there?"

"Yes. And it's going to be hard. It's going to be very hard," Phil said.

All of the defendants have denied the charges. Their fate will be determined by a panel of three judges and four citizens in the Greek city of Patras. Two of the nine defendants were released before trial and are believed to have returned to Serbia. CBS News has learned they won't be coming back for trial and will instead be tried in absentia. The Hendersons believe race may have played a role in their son's death.

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