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Jewish World Review August 2, 2001 / 13 Menachem-Av, 5761

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

'The prod was meant for cattle, not for children' -- GRAND ISLAND, Neb. -- In this broiling central Nebraska summer, with temperatures soaring past 100 degrees as the sun hovers relentlessly in the cloudless midday skies, a case is unfolding in the courthouse here that so far is not being talked about much beyond the borders of Hall County.

The people here know about the case; it is being discussed at the local Perkins restaurant, and at the Skagway variety store, and at the Dairy Queen. Not that it dominates local conversation; it doesn't. It's not as big a deal as the upcoming University of Nebraska football season, or the latest bulletins about movie stars and boy bands, delivered out of those summer skies via satellite on the nationally televised entertainment news shows.

Still, at least in central Nebraska the citizens are aware of what Jamie G. Henry and his wife, Billie D. Henry, are accused of doing. In the world outside of here, it's not a story. Perhaps the reason is that we have come to accept the idea that this kind of thing happens all the time in the United States.

Maybe not this crime in particular -- the alleged torture of an 8-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl by means of an electrified cattle prod intended to shock 2,000-pound bulls into submission. But the torture and forced confinement of children seems to have become so routine in the U.S. that, each new time we hear about it, we may become a little more deadened to the implications of such acts -- the implications for the children who are being tormented, and the implications for the rest of us, as citizens of a nation where somehow this is allowed to continue.

Small stories -- stories that seldom reach beyond the county line. And here in Hall County, in an area called Wood River, the 8-year-old boy and his 5-year-old stepsister allegedly endured punishment that makes longtime local law enforcement officials grasp for words to try to describe it.

According to court papers and interviews with law enforcement officials, Jamie G. Henry, 24, and his wife, Billie D. Henry, 25, lived with the two children and a 2-year-old daughter. All three children were born to Mrs. Henry; Jamie G. Henry is the biological father of the younger children. The 8-year-old boy has a different biological father.

A Hall County children's protective services worker and a sheriff's deputy were called to the Henrys' house after a teacher reportedly noticed bruises on the older children, and spoke with them. The teacher reportedly then notified authorities.

Lt. Jim Castleberry, lead investigator, told us Mrs. Henry at first refused to allow the children's services worker and the deputy into the residence. When Mr. and Mrs. Henry eventually were interviewed, he said, this is what they admitted:

  • Using a 24-inch-long battery-operated cattle prod to discipline the boy and the older girl for "not obeying" and "not completing their chores."

  • Beating the children with hands, a belt, plastic hangers and shoes on at least a weekly basis.

  • Tying the boy's wrists and ankles tightly together and leaving him bound.

  • Locking the boy outside the house in the dark on cold winter nights.

All of the punishment reportedly was delivered by Jamie G. Henry, with the knowledge of Mrs. Henry.

The children were interviewed separately. Lt. Castleberry said the boy told the protective services worker that one winter night Jamie G. Henry left him outside tied to a tree while the child was barefoot.

The torture with the prod, Lt. Castleberry said, is almost beyond comprehension.

"That prod is built for one reason," he said. "To make cattle move when they don't want to. You touch that prod to a steer's butt, that steer will kick and bawl and jump forward. It will be in pain. A bull might weigh a couple of thousand pounds; a big heifer might weigh 1,600 pounds. You activate that prod on them, and you can tell that they're hurt.

"But to use it on a child? On a little boy and a little girl? If it causes pain to a bull that weighs 2,000 pounds . . . and you're going to use it on a 60-pound boy? On a 40-pound girl?"

One Hall County resident who is familiar with ranch and farm life, describing what happens when an electrified prod is touched against the hide of a steer, said: "There's this crackling sound. . . ."

Lt. Castleberry said that Jamie G. Henry described what happened when he pressed the cattle prod against the 8-year-old boy: "He said that the boy would `yowl in pain.' That was his word: `yowl.'"

Lt. Castleberry said that, although Jamie G. Henry is the one who used the electrified prod on the children, his wife would hand it to him so that he could threaten the punishment.

"I'm 45 years old," Lt. Castleberry said. "I've been in law enforcement for 22 years. I have never heard of anything like this."

What appalled law officers as much as the punishment of the children was what happened when authorities first arrived at the Henry home. We will report on that tomorrow.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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