Murder case against Cambria man goes to jury

Lawyer for Brandon Henslee calls witnesses meth users during his 15-minute case presentation

jhickey@thetribunenews.comSeptember 19, 2013 

Brandon Noble Henslee

Jurors started deliberations Thursday afternoon to decide the fate of a Cambria man charged with killing his half brother.

Brandon Henslee, 23, is on trial, accused of killing Tyler 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 their mother, Sheri Grayson, her husband, Mike Coffin, and friend Steven Smith. Hanks’ body was found under a tree about a half-mile from the home.

After four days of testimony by prosecution witnesses, the defense presented a case Thursday that lasted less than 15 minutes.

Those who testified against Henslee are meth users who have criminal pasts and lack credibility, defense attorney Fred Foss told the jury during closing arguments.

Henslee was seen rinsing large amounts of blood from a yard-waste container, a witness testified Monday. Two witnesses said the last night Hanks was alive, they heard Henslee say, “I’m gonna whack him.”

“You should review the evidence and see if you believe that pack of liars or not,” Foss argued.

The defense’s closing argument also focused on Coffin as the possible killer who had animosity toward Hanks for being a successful meth dealer and strong figure in the home.

“This is the case of the perfect scapegoat,” Foss said.

The prosecution’s closing arguments focused on forensic evidence and statements made by Henslee in letters and phone calls to his mother and grandmother, in which Henslee said, “Only I saw how blood got in the living room or trash can.”

Henslee told his relatives that his brother vomited blood the night he died and that Henslee brought a large green waste can into the living room for his brother to vomit in.

But Deputy District Attorney Lee Cunningham called Henslee’s story into question.

“There is blood splattered on virtually every object in the room, and the ceiling. It would have to have been projectile-vomited 360 degrees and straight up. … And nobody is going to drag a green waste can up the stairs and into the house for someone to throw up in,” Cunningham said during closing arguments.

Witnesses reported seeing someone who looked like Henslee moving a large yard-waste can around at the time of the murder. Cunningham told jurors that Henslee used that waste can to haul his brother’s body a half-mile to hide it.

Cunningham also reminded jurors that a wound on Henslee’s right hand matched the pattern of the screwdriver used to kill Hanks, and DNA found on the handle of a bat believed to be used in the crime matched Henslee’s, a criminalist said Wednesday.

“(Henslee) lived in that house. His DNA would be all over the house,” Foss countered during the defense’s closing argument. “There’s circumstantial evidence pointing at other people.”

In late 2012, San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Jacquelyn Duffy had ruled that Henslee was mentally unable to assist in his own defense against charges he murdered Hanks. That decision was reversed in May, and Henslee was ruled competent to stand trial.

“I find Mr. Henslee to present a very sympathetic character, but you promised me under oath that you would not base your decision on sympathy,” Cunningham told the jury.

Deliberations will continue Friday morning.

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