By Alton Porter
It took a jury less than 30 minutes to find James "Eddy" Henderson guilty of aggravated kidnapping and about that same amount of time to sentence him to 99 years imprisonment for his participation in the incident that resulted in the 2015 brutal beating death of Vanessa Melson.
The 12-member jury reached the unanimous guilty verdict and handed down the sentence at the conclusion of a five-day trial, which began Monday, Sept. 18, in the 349th District Court in Crockett Monday, Sept. 25. The sentence is the maximum allowable for the offense for which Henderson was found guilty.
The jury could also have assessed Henderson a fine of up to $10,000, but did not decide to do so.
After receiving hearing his sentence, Henderson of Crockett, who was found guilty of aggravated kidnapping in the first degree in connection with Melson's murder, told District Judge Pam Foster Fletcher he will seek an appeal.
In mid-June 2015, Melson was brutally murdered after being driven by Robert Mobley Jr. to a home that was being shared by Henderson and Henderson's girlfriend Brenna Theurer.
On July 7, 2015 cadaver dogs led authorities to Melson's partially-buried body on Henderson's land near his home off County Road 1737 in the Grapeland area She was 29 years of age and the mother of three children.
After being arrested on outstanding warrants July 30, 2015, Henderson and Theurer agreed to talk to authorities about the incident. Theurer testified for the prosecution at Henderson's trial.
On Aug. 25, 2017, Mobley was found guilty of first-degree aggravated kidnapping by a Houston County jury in connection with Melson's death. His sentencing hearing is expected to be held today, Thursday, Sept. 28, according to District Attorney Donna Gordon Kaspar.
In reading the jury's verdict form in the sentencing phase of Henderson's trial Monday, Fletcher quoted the factfinders, saying, "We, the jury, having found the defendant guilty of aggravated kidnapping, as charged in the indictment, do assess his punishment at 99 years' confinement in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Institution Division. We assess as further punishment a fine of no fine."
Fletcher said the punishment will be meted out as set by the jury. She noted Henderson will be required to pay court costs and any other costs that are associated with court-appointed attorneys' fees.
Representing Henderson, Defense Attorney Stanley Sokolowski requested that the jury of six men and six women be polled after the announcement of Henderson's punishment, and the judge asked each juror if they had concurred in the verdict. Each one affirmatively stated the verdict was their individual verdict.
Four of Melson's family members and close friends presented victim impact statements, saying how devastating Melson's death is for them and how her loss of life grieves and otherwise affects them.
In a press release late Monday, Kaspar wrote, "A jury trial began Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2017, in the State of Texas vs. James Henderson. It is the second trial involving the death of Melson who went missing June 17, 2015, and was discovered in a shallow grave on the Henderson property July 7 of that same year.
"The jury heard evidence from Theurer, the girlfriend of Henderson, who testified that Mobley showed up at the Henderson property in the early hours of June 17 with Melson, who he was having an argument with.
"Mobley left, then returned to the home and put Melson in the laundry room and made her sit in a fold-out chair. Melson was not allowed to leave the laundry room. Theurer confronted Mobley in an attempt to make him leave to no avail.
"When she tried to call 911, Henderson took her phone away from her. Later that morning Theurer heard Mobley striking first the wall then Melson with a nunchuck wrapped in electric tape that Mobley had brought into the house with him. Theurer also testified that she believed both Mobley and Henderson sexually assaulted Melson.
"Video interviews made during the investigation of Henderson were played to the jury. They consisted of several versions of what transpired offered by Henderson to Bill Ruland, investigator for the Houston County Sheriff's Department and Andres de la Garza, a Texas Ranger.
"Henderson told several versions of how Mobley beat Melson with his fist out in the pasture behind the house and that he had nothing to do with her being confined in the laundry room or with her death.
"Throughout the interviews, Henderson claimed that Melson was alive when he saw her last. However, Theurer's testimony refuted that claim as she had seen both Henderson and Mobley put a black area rug with hair the color of Vanessa's hanging out of the end of it in the back of Mobley's truck.
"The jury took less than half an hour to find Henderson guilty. After the guilty verdict, the jury was responsible for assessing punishment. After carefully considering the facts of the case, the evidence of Henderson's criminal history, as well as part of an interview where he discussed purchase and sale of drugs that he and Mobley had planned, the jury assessed his punishment at 99 years imprisonment for aggravated kidnapping.
"I hope this verdict brings some closure to Melson's family. I feel such deep sympathy for them. This verdict unfortunately can't undo what has been done.
"I commend the jury for making the hard decision in this case and assessing this punishment. It is rarely easy to give out a sentence that will affect someone for such a great portion of their life, but in this case, it was warranted.
"Mobley has previously been found guilty of the offense and is set to be sentenced by Judge Fletcher on Thursday, Sept. 28.
Sokolowski, whose law practice is based in Palestine, told Fletcher he does not wish to be on the appellate list to represent Henderson in his efforts to have his sentence appealed. He told the Courier after the sentencing phase concluded Monday, "I just appreciate the hard work of the jury—their time they spent considering this.
"This was a long and difficult trial. I'm sure it was hard for them (the jurors) to hear. While we respect the verdict, we're certainly disappointed by the verdict. It wasn't what we expected in this trial.
"We certainly were looking for a 'Not Guilty' verdict due to the nature of the testimony from Ms. Theurer. We don't feel she was credible at all due to the duress I believe Mr. Henderson was under (at the time of Melson's murder). So, we felt like a 'Not Guilty' verdict would have been appropriate."
Sokolowski added, "The punishment certainly surprised me. Obviously, the jury believed him (Henderson) to be guilty. I thought the level of his involvement certainly was less than a 99-year verdict. I didn't think her (Theurer's) testimony was credible due to her criminal history and the fact that she had a deal (with the district attorney) to testify."
Regarding his decision to not add his name to the appellate list to possibly be chosen to represent Henderson on his appeal effort, Sokolowski said, "I think it's generally best to have somebody who didn't try the case to look at the appeal to make sure there wasn't something missed (by the trial attorney)."