Jury Hands Down 99 Year Sentence

By Will Johnson
Messenger Reporter

HOUSTON COUNTY – At approximately 10:30 a.m. on the morning of Monday, Sept. 25, Houston County District Attorney Donna Kaspar rested the state’s case and the jury was asked to decide the guilt or innocence of James Eddie Henderson on a single count of aggravated kidnapping, related to the death of Vanessa Melson.

Following a 10 minute break, the jurors retired to the jury chambers to begin deliberations. Approximately 40 minutes later, they emerged from behind closed doors and rendered their verdict. The jury foreman handed a note to the court bailiff who in turn passed the note to 349th District Court Judge Pam Foster Fletcher.

Judge Fletcher proceeded to read the legal wording required in court proceedings and then stated the six man and six woman jury had found Henderson guilty on the charge of aggravated kidnapping at 11:23 a.m.

Following the verdict, the trial changed from the guilt/innocence phase to the punishment phase of the case.

The prosecution played a video of an interview Henderson gave to Lead Investigator Bill Ruland during August of 2015. The video showed Henderson discussing how he planned to get back in to “the game” by selling methamphetamine with Robert David Mobley, Jr.

Mobley was convicted in August of this year for his role in the kidnapping of Vanessa Melson. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday, Sept. 28.

Once the video concluded, Judge Fletcher recessed the court for lunch.

When the jurors returned from lunch at 1:30 p.m., Henderson’s defense attorney, Stanley Sokolowski, called Diane Abbie to the witness stand to testify on behalf of her son.

She said her son had one daughter he tried to keep in contact with but added the relationship was strained. It was learned later Henderson actually has two daughters but is not in contact with the other child.

Abbie readily admitted her son had dealt with drug issues in the past but emphasized he was a good son and anticipated him taking care of her when she was older. She also stressed he had been active in church before he became an active member of the meth world.

Testimony was also given by Abbie which indicated Henderson had been sexually and emotionally abused as a teenager. She added the man accused of the molestation had died before a trial date could be set.

The DA had the final words in the trial. After a few questions under cross-examination, Kaspar commented “I know that you as a mom want James Eddie home. I’m sure Vanessa Melson’s mom wants her home, too.”

With no more questions, the jury was once again read the court’s instructions for this phase of

the trial and sent to the jury chambers to deliberate the sentence to be imposed.

The sentencing guidelines for the first degree felony of aggravated kidnapping gave the jurors a broad range of punishment (five to 99 years) from which to choose. When the knock on the door came some 50 minutes later indicating the jury had reached a decision, a hush fell over the courtroom.

Once again, the jury foreman handed a note to the bailiff who handed the note to Judge Fletcher. She opened the note and reported the jury had decided on the maximum penalty allowed under the law – 99 years.

After the trial had concluded, the DA released a statement on the case.

“This is the second trial involving the death of Vanessa Melson who went missing June 17, 2015 and was discovered in a shallow grave on the Henderson property on July 7 of that same year,” she stated.

Kaspar stated the jury heard evidence from Brenna Theurer, the former girlfriend of Henderson, who testified that Robert Mobley Jr. showed up at the Henderson property in the early morning hours of June 17 with Vanessa Melson and added the couple was engaged in argument when they arrived at the Henderson property.

“Robert Mobley left, then returned to the home and put Vanessa Melson in the laundry room and made her sit in a fold out chair.  Vanessa was not allowed to leave the laundry room.  Brenna confronted Mobley in an attempt to make him leave to no avail,” Kaspar stated.

The DA indicated testimony showed when Theurer tried to call 911, “… James Henderson took her phone away from her.  Later that morning Brenna heard Robert Mobley striking first the wall then Vanessa with a nun-chuck wrapped in electric tape that Mobley had brought in to the house with him.  Brenna also testified that she believed that both Mobley and Henderson had sexually assaulted Vanessa Melson.”

Several videos were shown over the course of the trial, the prosecutor explained, of interviews conducted by Bill Ruland, Investigator for the Houston County Sheriff’s Department and Andres de la Garza, Texas Ranger, shortly after Henderson was arrested in July of 2015.

The videos consisted of several versions of what transpired as offered by Mr. Henderson. In her closing arguments, Kaspar had remarked, “Getting a straight answer from James Eddie Henderson is like nailing Jell-O to a wall.”

“Mr. Henderson told several versions of how Robert Mobley beat Vanessa 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 Vanessa Melson was alive when he saw her last,” Kaspar indicated.

“However, Brenna Theurer’s testimony refuted that claim as she had seen both James 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 DA stated.

“After the guilty verdict, the jury was responsible for assessing punishment,” Kaspar continued. “After carefully considering the facts of the case, the evidence of Mr. Henderson’s criminal history, as well as part of an interview where Mr. Henderson discussed purchase and sale of drugs that he and Mobley had planned, the jury assessed his punishment at 99 years imprisonment for aggravated kidnapping.”

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.