CROCKETT, TX (KTRE) - Testimony in the jury trial for the second suspect arrested in connection to the brutal 2015 beating death of Vanessa Melson got underway Tuesday in a Houston County district court.
James "Eddy" Henderson, of Crockett, was indicted on a first-degree aggravated kidnapping charge back in May of 2016.
Houston County District Attorney Donna Kaspar started the trial by reading the indictment against Henderson. According to the indictment, Henderson was charged with holding Vanessa Melson against her will and meaning her harm.
Henderson then submitted his plea of "not guilty" to this charge of aggravated kidnapping. If Henderson is found guilty of aggravated kidnapping he faces a punishment range of five to 99 years in a Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
The state went on to give its opening statement.
Kaspar's argument focused largely on the testimony from one of the main witnesses, Brenna Theuer, which was given during Robert David Mobley Jr.'s trial, in August.
"Only three living people know what happened to Vanessa Melson," Kaspar said. "Mobley points at Henderson. Henderson points at Mobley. Brenna Theuer says it's both of them."
She points out that Henderson's story changed and ends up having multiple similarities with Theuer's recounting of the night's events.
The defense deferred their statement until later on in the trial.
The first witness to be called was the medical examiner, Dr. Chester Gwin, who conducted the autopsy on Vanessa Melson's body. The autopsy was unable to come up with a definite cause of death, he said.
The state asked Gwin questions related to the injuries found on Melson's body. According to Gwin, blunt force had been applied to Melson's forehead, the right side of her face, and her back. Hemorrhaging was present in all three areas.
The defense questioned him about the small size of the bruising, and Gwin added that, because of the body's state of decomposition, it's possible that larger bruises could have been present.
The state used this piece of medical evidence to back up their alleged murder weapon, the "nunchuck".
The second witness, Cody Breunig, was working at Flashback Data, when Henderson and Mobley's phones were sent, to get the data off of them. Breunig testified that he took the "data chips" off of both phones. Very little material was found on Henderson's phone, according to Breunig. What was found had been deleted while the phone was in use.
"No text messages were found," said Breunig. "The phone may have been completely reset, or it had been used very little."
On Aug. 25, a Houston County jury needed only 30 minutes to find Mobley guilty of first-degree aggravated kidnapping in connection to Melson's death. Mobley's sentencing hearing is scheduled for Sept. 28.
The arrest affidavit for Henderson said that on June 17, 2015, Jeff Melson, Vanessa Melson's stepfather, saw his stepdaughter leave his residence at about 11 p.m. and get into a gray 2014 Chevrolet pickup. In a video interview with a Houston County Sheriff's Office investigator, Jeff Melson said that he recognized the driver of the pickup as Mobley and that it was the last time he saw Vanessa Melson alive, the affidavit stated.
Mobley and Vanessa Melson arrived at the home Henderson shares with Theuer, his girlfriend at about 1 a.m. on June 17, 2015. Henderson and Theuer said in video statements that Mobley and Melson were in a heated argument that escalated to the point that it became physical, the affidavit stated.
"In separate interviews, both Henderson and Theuer state that Mobley was beating Vanessa Melson as well as shooting her up repeatedly with methamphetamine," the affidavit stated. "Mobley told both Henderson and Theuer that Melson was a snitch and had to be dealt with, so he could wash his hands of the matter."
Henderson allegedly told authorities that when he and Mobley went outside, the other man told him that he would kill him if he called law enforcement.
"Henderson, in fear for his life, agreed to be quiet and, in his words, told Mobley to, 'handle your business,'" the affidavit stated.
In her video statement, Theuer told authorities that Vanessa Melson was screaming in pain at 6 a.m. on June 17, 2015, adding that she was begging for her life and to be allowed to see her children, the affidavit stated.
"Robert Mobley would only tell her to shut the f--- up," the affidavit stated. "Theuer confronted Mobley and told him to stop. Then, according to Theuer, Mobley approached her and told her she would be next if she did not shut up and that he would kill her if she contacted law enforcement."
The affidavit stated that as the beating got worse, Theuer told Henderson she was going to call 911, but he told her to sit down and shut up before she was next. Theuer told authorities that because she was in fear for her life that she fled to the back of the house.
About 15 minutes later, Vanessa Melson grew quiet, and Theuer went back into the den area of the home, where she saw Mobley and Henderson facing away from her and looking "at Vanessa Melson's still body laying partially in the laundry room and partially in the garage," the affidavit stated.
At that point, Theuer ran out of the home, and Henderson joined her a short time later, the affidavit stated.
According to the affidavit, Mobley showed up at Henderson's home unannounced on July 4, 2015 and asked if Theuer "could keep her mouth shut or would he have to do it for her." Henderson allegedly told Mobley that he would make sure that his girlfriend kept her mouth shut.
On July 7, 2015 cadaver dogs found Vanessa Melson's partially buried on Henderson's property about 115 yards southeast of his home. A portion of the body was protruding from the ground. Texas Rangers were called in to assist with processing the scene and to exhume the body.Vanessa Melson's body was taken to a medical examiner's office.
Henderson and Theuer were both arrested on outstanding warrants on July 30, 2015. They both agreed to talk to the investigator that requested the arrest affidavit.
"James Eddie Henderson stated he had burned what he knew by personal knowledge to be Vanessa Melson's white purse, cell phone, and all the purse's contents," the affidavit stated. "He continued by saying that he poured lamp fluid on the items to ensure they completely burned."
Henderson told Mobley on June 17 and again on July 4, 2015 that he needed to destroy Vanessa Melson's belongings, so law enforcement officers wouldn't find it, the affidavit stated.
In one of her later interviews, Theuer told the HCSO investigator that she had given Vanessa Melson's boots to a woman in Palestine, the affidavit stated. After HCSO investigators traveled to Palestine and recovered the boots, they showed them to Henderson, and he allegedly confirmed they belonged to Vanessa Melson.