Asheville – Recidivism—the tendency to relapse into criminal behavior—has been a problem for the Asheville and Buncombe County police forces. Repeat offenders have been known to commit additional crimes while out on bail for a previous crime, sometimes within the same 24-hour period. A new bipartisan law passed by the 2023 NC Congress and signed by Governor Roy Cooper should help. It goes into effect on October 1st and is called NC HR813, the Pretrial Integrity Act.
Making Bail Bonds Make More Sense
Prior to this bill being passed, most bail was set by magistrates, an independent judicial officer of the court, but according to NC HR 813, “If conditions of pretrial release have previously been imposed upon a defendant and are active at the time the defendant allegedly committed a new offense, the judicial official who determines the conditions of pretrial release for the new offense shall be a judge. The judge shall direct a law enforcement officer or a district attorney to provide a criminal history report for the defendant and shall consider the criminal history when setting conditions of pretrial release. After setting conditions of pretrial release, the judge shall return the report to the providing agency or department.” This means that it is up to the judge’s discretion whether a defendant charged with one of the 14 listed crimes can be released before trial. If the judge doesn’t make a determination of conditions of pretrial within 48 hours, it goes back to a magistrate to set the conditions.
Habitual Offender Eviscerates Sweet Family Dog
One of the most recent crimes committed by a habitual offender, James Wesley Henry, 43, was the stabbing death of a beloved dog, Beignet, while its owner played Pickleball at Weaver Park on Merriman Avenue. Henry came out of the woods, slit the dog’s throat, repeatedly stabbing it before anyone could do anything, and then casually walked away. One of the people from the park followed him, and the police apprehended Henry. Henry was arrested on a felony charge for animal cruelty and is being held at the Buncombe County Detention Facility. He is being held on a $10,000 bond. Owner Liesbeth Mackie told WLOS, “My three children, husband, and I are devastated. This happened in broad daylight at Weaver Park. My fellow players were just a few feet away, which apparently didn’t scare off Beignet’s assailant.” Players often bring their dogs and leash them in the shade near the courts.
Henry’s history includes violence against people as well. According to APD records, Henry has been known for his volatility since as far back as 2010 and has been in and out of jail more than a dozen times.
Third Strike, and You’re Still Out On Bail?
Another case included a rash of “smash and grab” break-ins in the River Arts District, where several businesses were hit by the same offender, William Jeter Henson III, 42, while he was out on bail. Henson has an arrest record in Buncombe County dating back to 1997 that includes 21 breaking and entering-related charges, according to Asheville Police Capt. Joe Silberman. In an interview, Asheville Police Chief David Zack said, “This has been a consistent problem where people charged with crimes are bonded out and then commit more crimes while they’re out on bail. We’ve seen this time and again.”
In an excellent series about downtown Asheville’s homelessness and crime, Asheville Watchdog reported on the revolving door of Buncombe’s criminal justice system that saw dozens of people, many of them unhoused and severely mentally ill, cycle through the jail, be arrested, released, and arrested again, sometimes the same day.
Magistrate M. P. Moss set Henson’s bond at $10,000 secured following his January arrest, meaning he needed to pay a bondsman 10 percent, or $1,000, to get out. The bond order noted “multiple felony convictions in Buncombe and McDowell counties.”
Lower Bond Even After Three Separate Arrests in 2023
Arrested again on March 17, the day after District Court Judge Edwin D. Clontz changed his bond from secured to unsecured, Henson was released from jail, meaning he could leave and pay only if he failed to appear in court. Henson was picked up again the last week of June, and despite his previous record and incarceration for another rash of break-ins, Magistrate Raymond Harrell set his bond at $8,000 secured. Even though Henson was accused of committing new crimes while out on his previous arrest, this bail bond was lower than the one set in January.
At a June 16 “Anti-Crime Summit,” hosted by Congressman Chuck Edwards at the A-B Tech Community College, Chief Zack brought up the topic of repeat offenders and inadequate bonds. “Cops are doing their job,” said Zack, but we can’t have a revolving door in the magistrate’s office.”
Both Chief Zack and District Attorney Todd Williams said they supported NC HR813 and felt it would “provide substantial reform to pretrial release procedures in NC.”