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May 27, 2010

Arrest made in 1996 murder of linguistics professor

A 14-year-old murder of a Pitt faculty member may have been solved, according to Honolulu law enforcement officials.

Robert T. Henderson, a Pitt linguistics professor and director of the Language Acquisition Institute, was killed in July 1996 while he was in Hawaii for a conference. He was 51 at the time of his death, which was ruled a homicide.

According to Jim Fulton, executive assistant to the prosecutor of the Honolulu prosecuting attorney’s office, last week authorities charged 36-year-old Jason Lee McCormick with second-degree murder after a grand jury returned an indictment against him. McCormick, who is unemployed, was arrested May 20 and is being held at Oahu Community Correctional Center on $500,000 bail.

Fulton confirmed published reports that McCormick had confessed to the crime in 2008, but Fulton declined to provide further details, citing grand jury confidentiality. Arraignment for McCormick is expected by the end of the month, Fulton said.

Henderson earned both his MA (1974) and PhD (1983) in linguistics at Pitt. He joined the faculty here in 1982.

At the time of his death, Henderson was director of the professional translation certificate program and chair of the language resource center planning committee at Pitt.

In addition to his membership in numerous professional associations, Henderson was president of the International Association for Learning Laboratories (now the International Association for Language Learning Technology), a professional organization focused on the development, integration and evaluation of instructional technology for the teaching and learning of language, literature and culture.

In 2001 the department’s language laboratory was renamed the Robert Henderson Language Media Center in his memory.

Henderson’s family established the Robert T. Henderson Endowment Fund Award, which provides a $2,000 grant annually to a Pitt graduate student in either the Department of Linguistics, School of Arts and Sciences, or the Department of Instruction and Learning, School of Education.

Following McCormick’s arrest, Henderson’s brother Michael issued a written statement on behalf of the family, saying they were “relieved to learn that a suspect in this crime has been apprehended,” adding that his brother “achieved so much during his short 51 years and would have contributed so much more if his life hadn’t ended so senselessly.”

—Peter Hart

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