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Thu, Sept. 19

Prescott police arrest California fugitive

PRESCOTT ­ Prescott Police officers arrested 65-year-old California fugitive Howard Keith Henson Friday, five years after he fled to Canada to avoid serving a one-year jail sentence for making threats against the Church of Scientology.

Henson's Internet

threats and picketing in front of one

of the churches' com-pounds in Riverside County

stem from his belief that the church, which he views as a cult and not a religion, was responsible for the deaths of two women, a Scientologist and a non-Scientologist, according to his Web site.

Henson regards himself as one of "the most effective critics of

Scientology," according to his Web site.

Prescott Police Sgt. Ken Morley said Monday that detective Mark McClain watched Henson's home in the 800 block of Whetstine Avenue for three months after receiving a tip about his fugitive status. McClain arrested Henson, a Prescott High School graduate, on a fugitive-from-justice

warrant during a traffic stop near Black Drive in Prescott, Morley said.

At the time of his arrest, McClain explained to Henson the reason he was taking him into custody and, Morley said, "that kind of freaked him out." A Riverside County trial jury convicted Henson of a criminal threats misdemeanor in April 2001, but acquitted him of two other criminal threats charges, said Ingrid Wyatt, a spokesperson for the Riverside County District Attorney's Office.

She said a judge initially set sentencing for Henson in May 2001, but after he failed to appear, he rescheduled it for July. In his absentia, Henson received one year in jail, the maximum sentence he could get for the offense, Wyatt said.

She said other details are not readily available because the case had been closed and archived. She couldn't confirm whether those charges stem from the threats Henson made toward the church. The Riverside County Sheriff's Office referred any inquires about the case to the district attorney.

McClain said he gathered most of the information about Henson from the Internet.

The Wikipedia Web site describes Henson as a "staunch critic of Scientology, whose retaliation resulted in his conviction Š for interfering with the civil rights of Scientologists."

It says that during Henson's trial a judge disallowed Henson to present key elements of his defense including "that he was exercising his First Amendment right in criticizing what he deemed a dangerous cult."

According to Henson's Web page, the jurors didn't hear about the signs he carried while picketing in front of the Hemet Compound of Scientology, which he described as a heavily defended compound, about 70 miles west of Los Angeles.

The other two counts the jury acquitted him of were related to alleged claims that Henson terrorized Scientologists with his portable nuclear arsenal, he says on his Web site.

Wikipedia indicates that the church declared Henson a

criminal and a terrorist.

To avoid serving jail time, Henson escaped to Canada hoping to obtain refugee status. Between 2001 and 2005, while waiting for a decision from the Canadian government, he lived and worked as an electronics engineer in Brantford, Ontario. He earned his electrical engineering degree from the University of Arizona where he was regarded as one of the founders of the Druid Student Center, Wikipedia says. A campus humor newspaper, The Frumious Bandersnatch, was published there in the late 1960s.

Because he faced prospects of the Canadian government rejecting his political asylum application, which would mean his deportation to the United States and his serving the jail sentence, Henson left Canada and notified its government that he left on his own accord, Wikipedia says.

Henson disappeared from the public eye until Friday when McClain took him into custody. Morley said Henson lived in Prescott for at least two years.

If California authorities extradite Henson, he will serve the jail sentence but will not face new charges related to his escape, Wyatt said.

Contact the reporter at mburic@prescottaz.com

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