Some details of this story are omitted to protect the identity of the minor child involved.
After spending thirty-nine months in jail awaiting trial, a Bulloch County man has been released after he was acquitted in Superior Court Tuesday.
Law enforcement officials sought warrants for Charles Bradley Henderson of Portal, in November 2019 for one count of Child Molestation and one count of Aggravated Child Molestation. In January 2020, a Bulloch County grand jury indicted Henderson on the same two charges.
He then remained behind bars without bond, pending court action, with representation by the public defender’s office. In May 2021, Henderson hired Statesboro attorney Malone Hart and in July of 2022, Henderson waived his right to a jury trial and instead asked for a bench trial.
According to court transcripts, the state made an offer to Henderson ahead of trial: 15 years to serve in prison followed by probation and a lifetime on the sex offender registry, which the state contended was a ‘downward departure’ from the sentencing guidelines. Henderson declined the offer and wished to proceed with a trial,
Four months later, beginning on November 17, 2022, Superior Court Judge Lovett Bennett heard testimony from both the district attorney’s office and investigators, as well as questions from the defense.
The accuser, the mother of the accuser, the grandmother of the accuser all testified before the court. Under Marsy’s Law in Georgia, all three were permitted to remain in the courtroom for each other’s testimony as sequestration, or the isolation of witnesses who are the ‘victim’ or the victim’s family, does not apply.
The minor child, who is now 12 years old, shared a handful of details from the events three years prior to the best of her recollection, but the state said it would rely on her interview with The Teal House to spare the minor child from revisiting too many specifics. Her testimony, however, was centered on the assertion that she pretended to be asleep while Henderson assaulted her on the couch.
The mother of the accuser was married to Henderson at the time of the incident, but they had discussed divorce on ‘several’ occasions, according to court testimony. She is the one who collected all of the evidence after suspecting Henderson of wrongdoing and provided it to investigators. She testified that she was unaware of any prior incidents with Henderson and the minor child. She then told the court that the week before the trial, she had learned of another ‘attempted’ incident while at the district attorney’s office. She said at that time, she was told that Henderson reportedly put his hand on the thigh of the minor child but that nothing else occurred. She testified that over the course of nine years, she did not know of or suspect any improper behavior with Henderson and that the incident told to her at the DA’s office was the only ‘other’ possible incident of which she had been made aware.
On the night of the alleged incident, the mother was asleep, but said she believed Henderson cut a hole in the child’s pajamas with a knife while the nine-year-old slept and he then used a bulb dropper – what she referred to as ‘a syringe – with an oil substance to assault the child.
The grandmother of the accuser was not present at the time of the incident but was called by her daughter, the mother of the accuser, the following day, at which time she told her she believed Henderson “touched” the minor child. Because she was not present and only heard conversations in the days that followed, her testimony was not particularly different from that of her daughter.
The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) nurse also testified about her examination of the minor child at the Teal House. She testified the mother told her a hole had been cut in the pajamas with a medicine dropper/non-needled syringe, as opposed to a knife. There was no mention of any oily substance collected during her examination or on the report as reviewed during direct examination.
While presenting its case, the state played the forty-minute interview at The Teal House and presented the physical evidence to the court for visual review, including the dropper/syringe, the bottle of oil, and the pajama pants. Those items were not sent off for any type of forensic testing, the substances on the pants were not identified, and the items were preserved by investigators from the time they were received by the accuser’s mother.
The Teal House interview depicted a different recollection of the story from the mother’s testimony and the daughter’s. In the video, the accuser suggested she got hurt and was screaming, after crying under the covers, while her mother said she was fine when she first discovered her and that another minor child had been asleep on the adjacent couch. Additionally, the mother and grandmother testified that the minor child was hysterical when talking about the alleged incident, but the Teal House interview said she was not.
When the state rested, the defense made no argument and attorneys went straight to closing arguments. At that time, Hart argued that the state failed to meet its burden of beyond a reasonable doubt. He argued that testimony was inconsistent, that the physical evidence did not match the allegations, and that the evidence was simply not there.
“You want to believe a child…But it’s not only a child saying inconsistent things, but it’s the parents and grandparents saying inconsistent things…It’s hard to say somebody’s guilty of harming another person when they weren’t even nearby,” Hart said. “…The physics don’t even add up.”
As is often the case in bench trials, Judge Bennett took the evidence under consideration with the understanding that he would again review the video and related documents and issue a ruling.
On February 14, 2023, Judge Bennett filed his ruling in the case: Not Guilty on both charges. Henderson was released from the Bulloch County Jail the same day after 1,176 days behind bars.
Long History of Issues in Ogeechee Judicial Circuit
Under the reign of District Attorney Daphne Totten, the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit’s track record has been less than favorable to the state, particularly when it comes to serious felony offenses, like sex crimes and murders.
The District Attorney’s Office has a blanket policy to oppose bond for all persons charged with a sex crime, irrespective of the facts or circumstances of the case. The Superior Court Judges still utilize their discretion to grant bond in some cases and have done so more frequently as the district attorney’s office has established a pattern of losing cases.
As a result of these policies, nearly a dozen individuals have spent a combined 7,862 days behind bars before they were acquitted by a judge, a jury of their peers, or a No Bill of Indictment from a grand jury. That number is equivalent to 21.5 years. For more information about those cases, click here.