Bulloch County man acquitted of child molestation charges after 1,176 days in prison • The Georgia Virtue

Some details of this story are omitted to protect the identity of the minor involved.

After serving thirty-nine months in prison awaiting trial, a Bulloch County man was released after being acquitted by the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Law enforcement officials in November 2019 sought warrants for the arrest of Portal’s Charles Bradley Henderson on one count of child molestation and a count of aggravated child molestation. In January 2020, a Bulloch County grand jury indicted Henderson on the same two counts.

He then remained behind bars without attachment pending a trial, with prosecutors representing him. In May 2021, Henderson hired Statesboro attorney Malone Hart, and in July 2022, Henderson waived his right to a jury trial and instead filed for a trial.

According to court records, the state made Henderson an offer before the trial: 15 years in prison followed by suspended sentence and life on the sex offender registry, which the state said constituted a “deviation” from sentencing guidelines. Henderson declined the offer and wished to proceed with a trial.

Four months later, beginning November 17, 2022, Superior Court Judge Lovett Bennett heard testimonies from both prosecutors and investigators and questions from the defense.

The prosecutor, the prosecutor’s mother, the prosecutor’s grandmother all testified in court. Under Marsy’s Georgia law, all three were allowed to remain in the courtroom to testify for one another because seizure or isolation of witnesses who are the “victim” or the victim’s family does not apply.

The minor, now 12, shared a handful of details from the events three years before her best memory, but the state said it would rely on her interview with The Teal House to revisit the minor to spare too many specifics. However, her testimony centered on the claim that she pretended to be asleep while Henderson attacked her on the couch.

The accuser’s mother was married to Henderson at the time of the incident, but according to court statements, they had discussed divorce on “a number of” occasions. She is the one who gathered all the evidence after suspecting Henderson of wrongdoing and made it available to investigators. She testified that she was not aware of any previous incidents involving Henderson and the minor child. She then told the court that she learned of another “attempted” incident in the prosecutor’s office the week before the trial. She said she was told at the time Henderson reportedly placed his hand on the minor child’s thigh, but nothing else happened. She testified that she was not aware of or suspected of any improper conduct towards Henderson over a period of nine years and that the incident reported to her in the DA’s office was the only “other” possible incident brought to her attention.

On the night of the alleged incident, the mother was asleep but said she believes Henderson used a knife to cut a hole in the child’s pajamas while the nine-year-old slept and he then used an onion dropper – what she calls “a syringe – with an oil substance to attack the child.

The accuser’s grandmother was not present at the time of the incident but was called the following day by her daughter, the accuser’s mother, who told her she believed Henderson had “touched” the minor child. Since she was not present and only overheard conversations in the days that followed, her testimony did not differ significantly from that of her daughter.

The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) nurse also testified about her examination of the underage child at the Teal House. She testified that the mother told her that a hole had been cut in the pyjamas, and that it was done with a dropper/syringe without a needle, as opposed to a knife. There was no mention of any oily substance collected during their investigation or in the report reviewed during direct investigation.

During the presentation of its case, the state played the forty-minute interview at The Teal House and presented the court with the physical evidence, including the dropper/syringe, the oil bottle and the pajama bottoms, for visual examination. These items were not sent in for any type of forensic testing, the substances on the pants were not identified, and the items were kept by investigators from the time they were received from the accuser’s mother.

The Teal House interview presented a different recollection of the story than the mother’s and daughter’s testimonies. In the video, the accuser suggested she was injured and screamed after crying under the covers, while her mother said she was fine when she first spotted her and that another minor child was on the adjacent floor had slept on the couch. Additionally, the mother and grandmother testified that the minor child was in hysterics when discussing the alleged incident, but the Teal House interview said she was not.

When the state rested, the defense raised no argument and the attorneys proceeded directly to the closing arguments. At the time, Hart argued that the state had clearly failed to meet its burden. He argued that the testimony was contradictory, that the physical evidence did not match the allegations, and that the evidence simply did not exist.

“You want to believe a kid… But it’s not just a kid saying conflicting things, it’s the parents and grandparents saying contradicting things… It’s hard to say someone is guilty of harming another person when.” they weren’t even around,” Hart said. “…The physics aren’t even right.”

As is often the case in bank court cases, Judge Bennett received the reviewed evidence with the understanding that he would review the video and related documents and make a decision.

On February 14, 2023, Judge Bennett returned his ruling in the case: not guilty on both counts. Henderson was released from the Bulloch County Jail the same day after 1,176 days behind bars.

Long history of troubles in the Ogeechee Judicial District

Under the rule of District Attorney Daphne Totten, the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit’s track record has not been favorable to the state, particularly when it comes to serious crimes such as sex crimes and murders.

The District Attorney’s Office has a blanket policy of refusing bail to anyone accused of a sex crime, regardless of the facts or circumstances of the case. Supreme Court justices still use their discretion to grant bail in some cases, and have done so more frequently as prosecutors have identified a pattern of lost cases.

As a result of this policy, nearly a dozen people spent a total of 7,862 days behind bars before being acquitted by a judge, peer jury or grand jury. This number corresponds to 21.5 years. More information on these cases can be found here.