Witness tells of 'waterfall' of blood in Cambria man's murder trial

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comSeptember 16, 2013 

Brandon Henslee, left, looks at his attorney, Fred Foss, during his trial for murder Thursday, Sept. 12.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Three days after his brother was last seen, Brandon Henslee was spotted rinsing large amounts of blood from a yard waste container, a witness testified during Henslee’s murder trial Monday.

“There was so much blood coming out of it,” testified Steven Smith, who had been staying at the Cambria home Henslee shared with his half-brother, Tyler Hanks, their mother and stepfather. “It was like the waterfall in ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.’”

Sheriff’s deputies eventually found Hanks’ body under a tree roughly a half-mile from the house. He’d been beaten with a baseball bat and stabbed in the head 20 times with a screwdriver, prosecution witnesses said.

Henslee, 23, is now on trial for the murder of Hanks, 20.

During Monday’s testimony, the defendant’s stepfather, Mike Coffin, told a jury that Hanks had beaten Henslee up in the past “when Brandon was out of line,” once prompting Coffin to warn Hanks that if he hit Henslee too hard, he could wind up in the hospital. Coffin said he last saw Hanks alive in the early morning hours of Aug. 23, 2012 — when he said goodnight to Hanks and Henslee, who were both in the living room.

A couple of hours later, around 4 a.m., Smith, a family friend, said he heard a car door and multiple whispering voices — including a female’s voice — outside the house. Roughly 15 minutes after that, he said, he heard a loud commotion.

“It sounded like the trash can was being jumbled around in front of the house,” said Smith, who had been sleeping in a room in the garage.

When he opened the door, Smith said, he saw Henslee with a green yard waste container. A couple of hours later, around 6:30 a.m., Smith said he saw Henslee in the living room, where the wood floors had been mopped.

“I thought it was strange that the floor was all clean like that,” Smith said.

Later that morning, Smith testified, Henslee told him, “The backyard is off limits.”

After Coffin heard about the container, he said he saw it in the yard, but he assumed it contained stolen property, he said, so he refused to look inside.

“I said, ‘I just got off parole — I don’t want no part of it,’” he said.

The container disappeared for a time, Coffin said, then Henslee brought it back on Aug. 25. Both Smith and Coffin said they saw Henslee rinsing out blood.

“Then I knew there was something up,” Coffin said.

Henslee told them he’d scratched his arm, Coffin said. Yet there were “gallons” of blood and water in the container, he said.

Coffin said he went looking for Hanks, taking their dog in hopes that it would pick up a scent. Meanwhile, Sheri Grayson, mother to both Henslee and Hanks, removed Hanks’ computer from the home.

“She said it was to protect Tyler,” Smith said. “No mother wants anyone else to know their boy is looking at porno.”

Coffin said he searched for Hanks for several hours. And at one point, the dog ran into the ocean and began to drown, he said, forcing him to rescue the Rottweiler.

When he returned to the house, Coffin said he changed his clothes just as police arrived.

Henslee attorney Fred Foss has suggested Coffin and others might have participated in the crime, prompting Deputy District Attorney Lee Cunningham to ask Coffin, “Did you kill Tyler Hanks?”

“Hell no,” Coffin said.

“Did you help clean up the evidence after?”

“No, sir.”

Two prosecution witnesses testified that a wound on Henslee’s right hand matched the pattern of the screwdriver used to kill Hanks.

The Tribune is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service