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Jewish World Review July 1, 2002 / 21 Tamuz, 5762

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

Rescued once, will
they be sent back? | GRAND ISLAND, Neb. The rights of Jamie G. Henry, accused of torturing his 8-year-old stepson and 5-year-old daughter with an electrified cattle prod, are being meticulously protected.

Last summer, Henry pleaded no contest -- which amounts to a guilty plea in Nebraska -- to two felony counts stemming from the alleged torture of the children. But later he decided he didn't really mean it; he asked a judge, Teresa Luther, to allow him to withdraw the plea, and she said he could.

Hall County prosecutors did not like this -- they thought a plea entered in open court should stand -- and asked the Nebraska Court of Appeals to overrule Judge Luther. Last week, the appeals court did; it ruled Henry should not have been permitted to withdraw the original plea. Henry has 30 days to appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court.

So he is exercising his legal options; Billie D. Henry, his wife, did quite well in the legal system early in this case. She had been accused of permitting the torture -- which allegedly included regularly beating the children with hands, a belt, shoes and hangers; tying the boy's hands and wrists tightly together; and locking the boy outside on winter nights -- to go on. Neither Jamie nor Billie Henry was required to post a penny of bond, and a judge freed Billie Henry without a trial.

Thus, a year after the arrests for the torture, Mr. and Mrs. Henry remain free. And their children?

As we reported Sunday, we met the children -- the boy is now 9, the older girl 6, a younger girl 3 -- at a Wal-Mart here while their foster parents were taking them shopping for bicycles.

(We reported Friday that the children did not receive the bikes, because the foster parents, who are not wealthy, put the bikes on layaway, and then were informed by Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services workers that there was a holdup in freeing any of the money that readers of these reports donated to the children. After we contacted state officials -- and somewhat heatedly pointed out that the money was meant for the children, not for the bureaucracy -- the money for the bikes suddenly became available. A state official told us this was going to happen anyway. The timing, she said, was a coincidence.)

Earlier on the day we met the children, they had been taken to wait for Billie Henry so that she could have one of the visits with them that she is guaranteed. The children waited. And waited. And waited. Billie Henry stood them up. She didn't show.

This is said to be confusing and agitating to the children. They are in limbo, without a full-time home; the state insists on keeping Billie Henry in their lives, and she blows them off. Early in the case, Hall County Sheriff's Lt. Jim Castleberry, lead investigator, told us he believed there was a good chance that the children might eventually be sent back to the home where the torture allegedly occurred.

"Stranger things have happened," he said.

In their foster home the children are thriving in ways they never did before; they are fed regularly, they are kept clean, the boy is playing baseball and making friends. Yet off in the distance exists the possibility that the State of Nebraska will return them to Billie Henry. (Jamie Henry's parental rights have already been terminated.)

Could they live in a full-time adoptive home?

Only if Billie Henry's parental rights are terminated. Then the children will be eligible for adoption. No such move has yet been initiated.

"The decision on whether to seek termination of parental rights is usually that of the county [prosecuting] attorney," said Michael J. Rumbaugh, attorney for the Department of Health and Human Services.

We were unable to elicit comment on this from Hall County prosecutor Jerry Janulewicz, or from assistant prosecutor Kay Tracy.

So the children will continue to be taken to their scheduled visits, and spend their mandated time with Billie Henry, should she decide to show up.

Meanwhile, they grow a little older every day, with nowhere to truly call home.

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JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. His latest book is Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.

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