Cambria man found guilty of murder in half brother's death

Jury finds Brandon Henslee, 23, responsible for killing Tyler Hanks, 20

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comSeptember 23, 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

A Cambria man accused of stabbing his half brother in the head 20 times with a screwdriver was found guilty Monday of first-degree murder despite a defense attorney’s suggestion that the victim’s stepfather could have committed the crime.

Brandon Henslee, 23, sat emotionless as a Superior Court clerk read the jury’s verdict. In the audience, Henslee’s maternal grandmother and an aunt quietly wept.

Henslee was convicted of killing Tyler Hanks, 20, at their home in August 2012. Hanks’ body was found under a tree a half-mile from the house, a screwdriver embedded under the base of his skull.

Prosecution witnesses said he’d been bludgeoned by a baseball bat and stabbed in the head 20 times with a Phillips screwdriver while sitting on a love seat in his family’s living room.

The trial featured several witnesses serving time in jail or prison, prompting defense attorney Fred Foss to question the credibility of the prosecution’s case.

During the trial, prosecution witnesses described Hanks as a methamphetamine dealer in a house where meth use was common.

Some witnesses said he looked out for Henslee, who had a history of mental illness. Their stepfather, Mike Coffin, said Hanks occasionally beat up his older brother when Henslee was “out of line.”

While Foss suggested Coffin could have committed the crime, Deputy District Attorney Lee Cunningham relied on eyewitness testimony and DNA evidence to suggest Henslee was the killer.

After Hanks vanished, two witnesses, including Coffin, said they saw Henslee rinsing out a green yard waste container filled with large amounts of blood. In phone calls from San Luis Obispo County Jail, Henslee said Hanks — possibly suffering from an ulcer — had vomited blood in the can before leaving the house to attend a party.

But one prosecution expert said blood spatters on the ceiling could not have been caused by vomiting. Meanwhile, a baseball bat found with Hanks’ blood on it was also determined to have Henslee’s DNA on the handle.

Before the prosecution’s first witness was called, Henslee had agreed to enter a guilty plea, but he subsequently withdrew his plea. At one point during the trial, Henslee said he wanted to testify, but he never took the stand.

Henslee’s grandmother, Donna DiFatta, said after the verdict was announced that she did not want to comment on the case.

Sheri Grayson, mother to both Henslee and Hanks, was not in the courtroom when the verdict was read and could not be reached for comment at her home. Foss also could not be reached.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Jerret Gran thanked law enforcement for their work on the case and noted that the family has now lost two sons.

“Obviously, our sympathies go out to the victim’s family,” he said.

Henslee is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 13. He faces up to life in prison.

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