Cambria man sentenced to 27 years to life for half brother's death

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

A Cambria man found guilty of stabbing his half brother in the head 20 times with a screwdriver was sentenced Wednesday to 27 years to life in prison.

Brandon Henslee, 24, was convicted Sept. 23 of killing Tyler Hanks, 20, at their Cambria home in August 2012. The room where Hanks was killed was splattered with blood, and his body was found under a tree a half-mile from the house.

Appearing disheveled in black and white stripes, Henslee declined to comment at the sentencing in San Luis Obispo Superior Court, only requesting an opportunity to appeal and a phone call. As he left the courtroom, he gave a quick glance and wave to his mother, who had addressed the court minutes earlier with a desire that he be helped while incarcerated.

“I want Brandon to get the mental health care he needs. I want everyone with mental illness to get the help they need, so the families don’t have to go through the same pain and suffering of ours,” Sheri Grayson said.

In late 2012, San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Jacquelyn Duffy had ruled 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.

Dana Kennedy, Henslee’s aunt, shook as she addressed the court. She described how Henslee had been abused as a child, when he would hide in the farthest corners of his home.

“Brandon has been severely mentally ill from the time he was a little boy,” she said. “Even here, when we came to the trial, we watched him deteriorate under our eyes, and we went on like nothing was happening,” she said.

During the trial, prosecution witnesses characterized Hanks — the victim — as a successful methamphetamine dealer of whom Henslee was allegedly jealous.

After Hanks vanished, two witnesses, including his stepfather, Mike Coffin, said they saw Henslee rinsing out a green yard waste container filled with a large amount of blood. A baseball bat found with Hanks’ blood on it was also determined to have Henslee’s DNA on the handle, and a wound on Henslee’s right hand matched the pattern of the screwdriver used to kill Hanks.

“The events of that night do not fully represent the lives of my sons,” Grayson said.

She added that her own pain is unspeakable, and that the San Luis Obispo County Victim/Witness Assistance Program, which works with victims and witnesses of crimes and their families to navigate the criminal justice process and reduce trauma — was insufficient for her situation.

“Victim/Witness couldn’t help me because I was on both sides. I was left standing alone. I feel like a victim twice,” Grayson said.

“Those boys loved each other,” Kennedy said in her address, in which she requested that Henslee be sentenced to serve time in Atascadero State Hospital so that he receives adequate mental health treatment.

Duffy recommended that Henslee serve his term at the California Men’s Colony for 27 years to life, with 412 days of credit. He agreed to restitution of funeral expenses.

Duffy assured the family that, if necessary, CMC has the ability to transfer Henslee to Atascadero State Hospital.