Cambria murder suspect's calls to mother recounted in court

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comSeptember 18, 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

The mother of homicide victim Tyler Hanks told another son that Hanks’ spirit was with him as he sat in jail suspected of his half-brother’s brutal stabbing.

“He wants you out,” Sheri Grayson told Brandon Henslee during a phone call last spring. “He knows you didn’t do this to him.”

Yet, a criminalist testified Wednesday that Henslee’s DNA was found on the handle of a bat containing Hanks’ blood. And a witness who saw the brothers the last night Hanks was alive said he heard Henslee say, “I’m gonna whack him.”

Henslee is on trial for the alleged murder of Hanks, 20, who was bludgeoned with a bat and stabbed 20 times in the head with a screwdriver last year in the Cambria home the brothers shared with Grayson, her husband, Mike Coffin, and friend Steven Smith. Hanks’ body was found under a tree roughly a half-mile from the home.

As the prosecution continued its case Wednesday, J.T. Camp, a detective with the District Attorney’s Office, said phone conversations between Henslee and his mother and grandmother were recorded as part of the investigation. During calls played for jurors, Grayson urged her son not to talk to anyone about the case as Henslee maintained his innocence.

“I don’t have nothing to hide,” he told his grandmother, Donna DiFatta. “I’m not jealous … we got along just fine. Everything was cool.”

During a call to his mother, Grayson said she believed him.

“If you were drinking, I would have believed that you might have hurt your brother,” she told him. “But whoever did this to your brother, they didn’t know you very well.”

Grayson suggested he was set up.

“If somebody gave you drugs and something happened and if you had something to do with any of it … it doesn’t matter,” she said. “You’re not supposed to remember it because it would be too horrific for you to remember. And it wouldn’t be your fault.”

At one point, she asked Henslee if he heard how Hanks had died.

“It was horrible, huh?” she said.

“I know,” Henslee said.

“It was ugly, and I know you wouldn’t do that to your brother.”

Grayson suggested that her husband might have committed the crime. And she said she was going to request that Henslee be tested for mental disorders to allow more time to prepare for the case.

“I’m not retarded,” Henslee said. “I don’t want (my attorney) to think I have Asperger syndrome or autism,” he said.

“It doesn’t make you retarded,” his mom replied. “You’re highly intelligent, honey. But we’re gonna prolong this, OK?”

At times, Henslee — who was once declared mentally incompetent to stand trial — talked about what he planned to do upon release, including getting a job and helping his mother.

“I’m going to take care of you when you’re old,” he told her.

Other times, he seemed concerned that he wouldn’t get released.

“I’m looking at 25 to life,” he told his grandmother. “I’m in the prime of my life. I want to live a little and do something with my life.”

Camp testified that Henslee’s solitary confinement cell was also recorded, and he was heard talking to himself, singing and mumbling.

Robert Wray, a friend of Hanks, said he was at the Cambria home the last night Hanks was seen alive. During the night, he remembered, Hanks called his brother “a fatty.” Afterward, Henslee said, “I’m gonna whack him” several times, referring to Hanks.

Meanwhile, the prosecution’s final witness, criminalist Samantha Skotarczyk, said DNA found on the handle of a bat believed to be used in the crime matched Henslee’s.

According to trial testimony this week, Henslee told his relatives in letters and phone calls from the jail that his brother vomited blood the night he died, then left the home to go to a party.

“Tyler left without any witnesses,” he told his grandmother.

“Brandon, he ended up in a field dead,” DiFatta said.

“Right.”

“With a screwdriver in the back of his neck.”

“That’s his problem,” Henslee said. “That’s not my problem.”

“That’s not his problem,” DiFatta said. “He’s dead — someone did that to him.”

Thursday, the defense will begin presenting its case and is expected to re-call Smith, a prosecution witness.

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