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Jewish World Review August 7, 2001 / 18 Menachem-Av, 5761

Bob Greene

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The judge rules she can go free without a trial -- GRAND ISLAND, Neb. -- Accused of torturing an 8-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl with an electrified cattle prod meant to shock 2,000-pound bulls into obedience, Jamie G. Henry, 24, and his wife, Billie D. Henry, 25, appeared in Hall County court for a preliminary hearing.

Mr. and Mrs. Henry had come to court from the rural part of Hall County where they live. It had been two months since they had been arrested in connection with the alleged torture of the children with the cattle prod, with the beating of the children, with the binding of the boy's wrists and ankles, with the locking of the boy outside on winter nights, with the tying of the boy to a tree on a winter night when the child was barefoot. But Mr. and Mrs. Henry had been free since their arrest.

This was because no bail requirements had been placed on them; they had been released on their own recognizance. The two children, meanwhile, along with another, 2-year-old, daughter, had been removed from the house and placed in state-ordered foster care. Nebraska state officials told us they are not permitted to say whether the children were allowed to stay together, or even to say whether the children are doing well wherever they have been sent.

So Mr. and Mrs. Henry came to court for their preliminary hearing. And a county judge -- Judge David Bush -- dismissed all charges against Mrs. Henry. He said she would not have to go to trial; she was free and clear to leave.

This surprised law enforcement officials who arrested her. The torture of the children had reportedly been carried out by Jamie G. Henry. But Hall County Sheriff's Lt. Jim Castleberry and Sgt. Rich McKinny, and deputy prosecutor Kay Tracy, all told us that Mrs. Henry knew about the torture, and in fact handed the cattle prod to her husband so he could threaten the children with it. This is why Mrs. Henry had been charged with aiding and abetting in the torture.

"And she lied about removing the cattle prod from the house," Lt. Castleberry said.

As we reported, Mrs. Henry told Sgt. McKinny and a children's protective services worker that, to help the children avoid any more pain, she had run the batteries on the cattle prod down, and had removed the prod from the house. But even as she was saying that, Sgt. McKinny said, the 8-year-old boy walked over to a corner and pulled the cattle prod from beneath a pile of clothes where it had been hidden from the investigators. Sgt. McKinny said the batteries were charged and ready to activate the prod.

"She removed it from the house to protect the children?" Sgt. McKinny told us. "No. It was right there."

Judge Bush, though, dismissed the charges against Mrs. Henry and sent her on her way. His reason, according to deputy prosecutor Tracy, was that Mrs. Henry reportedly was not actually in the room when her husband tortured the children with the prod -- she had handed it to him beforehand.

So she is free. Prosecutors are deciding whether to appeal Judge Bush's ruling, or to refile charges in district court, where a trial would take place.

As for Jamie G. Henry, his arraignment in district court on eight felony charges had been scheduled for this week. But prosecutors were uncertain whether that would take place, because Henry's attorney was said to be considering asking that his client be given the same leniency Mrs. Henry had been given -- that Jamie Henry be released without having to go to trial.

Jamie Henry's attorney, Hall County public defender Gerry Piccolo, told us he would prefer not to discuss any elements of the case. Mrs. Henry's court-appointed attorney, Art Wetzel, told us he, too, would prefer not to discuss his client's case.

Lt. Castleberry, describing the effects of the cattle prod, said: "If a full-grown adult were to be touched by the prod, the jolt is so severe that it would bring the adult's feet right off the floor. To use the prod on a child . . . the extreme extent of the severity of that shock on a child's body, and on his or her emotions . . ."

The real tragedy of this kind of treatment of children is not that it is unheard of or rare; the real tragedy, as we will report tomorrow, is that, except in the details of the torture, it is not particularly unusual.

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

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