Shauntay Henderson remembers coming home from her first day of school as a little girl and telling her grandmother about all of her new friends.
"You ain't got no friends," her grandmother replied. Doretta Henderson wanted to teach Shauntay the difference between a friend and an acquaintance.
Such distinctions were important growing up in the Charlie Parker Square public-housing development, a collection of angular, one-story, slate-gray residences near 12th Street and the Paseo. Doretta — Miss Dottie, as her friends and neighbors called her — was a community activist in the '60s and '70s, fighting for civil rights and welfare rights.
But here's Doretta's granddaughter, wearing a bright-orange jumpsuit, sitting in a plastic chair with her elbows propped up on a desk in a tiny visiting room in the Jackson County Detention Center. Her short, black hair is combed back from her face. She wears a relaxed expression — not sullen and seething, like in the mug shots splashed over newspapers and TV screens last spring. Not jeeringly defiant, as she looked the day after police caught her and paraded her, handcuffed, in front of cameras on her way to face a judge last April 2. After nine months in near-solitary confinement, 25-year-old Henderson signals in her demeanor mostly bored resignation. Her smile reveals a gold cap on one tooth. She got the gold cap when she was 17. Her grandmother didn't approve.
Last March, FBI agents would have given $100,000 to have Henderson sitting in their custody.
Today, though, she's sitting in front of her attorney, Patrick Peters, and a reporter from The Pitch.
Henderson has hired Peters to represent her in a trial scheduled to start March 31. In inner-city circles, the handsome, chain-smoking Peters is known as the criminal defense lawyer. (His son once told him that a rap song praised his skill in coaxing dismissals from judges and light sentences from juries.) Henderson is going to need one of Peters' miracle defenses.
She's accused of gunning down 21-year-old DeAndre Parker in front of witnesses as he sat in his truck in the parking lot of a Red Bridge Road gas station on September 2, 2006. She has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder and armed criminal action.
On March 5, 2007, at a press conference in front of a white police van parked at Linwood and Prospect on the city's east side, Kansas City Police Chief Jim Corwin told members of the media that the streets of Kansas City were the site of a gang war and Henderson was at its center.
The next day, the FBI issued a federal warrant for Henderson's arrest, on a tip that she'd left the state. The FBI told the media that Henderson might be concealing her identity by dressing like a man and that she should be considered violent, armed and dangerous.
Police took her into custody on March 31, 2007, the same day that her mug shot was added to the FBI's Most Wanted Fugitives list — alongside a suspected child murderer, a notorious Boston mobster named James "Whitey" Bulger, and Osama bin Laden.
Today, at the Jackson County Jail, Peters stares at Henderson's hands. "You have the smallest hands I've ever seen," he says, as if he's envisioning himself in court: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my client couldn't have pulled the trigger — just look at her tiny hands.
Henderson's fingers are thin and delicate and pale. They look as though she's been sitting in a bathtub too long. Ever since she was a little girl, she has chewed her fingernails compulsively.
"I know," she says, glancing down. "I been looking at that."