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Public seeks answers in now-quiet Greene County case
PARAGOULD, Ark. – Stephen Henderson’s life would never be the same after he walked into Greene County Jail in handcuffs on August 15 while being filmed by local media.
In the days prior, a manhunt was underway after a woman alleged on Monday, August 13 a man had hid in the back seat of her car, abducted her, and then raped her. Sheriff David Carter was quoted by the television station in a way that made him seem to have no doubt a rape had occurred.
The alleged victim’s version of events is described as follows in the police report: she was backing out of her driveway when she realized a man behind her in the floorboard. He put a knife to her neck and told her to drive. They drove from Highway 34 and County Road 618 to County Road 131. He made her get out of the vehicle, made her walk 175 yards and took her to the bottom of a gully next to a brush area. He then tore her clothing off, raped her, penetrated her “at least two times,” and held her down with his hand around her neck (still holding the knife? The report doesn’t say). Then, almost randomly, gunshots went off nearby and it scared him off. He ran away and left her vehicle, leading her to leave the area and flag someone down for help.
Carter had no reason not to believe a rape had occurred. He saw torn clothing at the alleged crime scene along with a large knife described by the victim in her story. The victim seemed emotionally distraught but she couldn’t give any details Monday night. The incident report obtained by NEA Report showed she was only able to provide some details on Tuesday. Under mounting pressure from an impatient public, investigators pressed the alleged victim for clues. On Wednesday, investigators compiled photos of nearby individuals with prior criminal records. Henderson had a battery charge from a fight he had with another male where Henderson admits he “broke his jaw.” His photo was included in what investigators would show the alleged victim.
A lengthy Facebook post by the alleged victim’s mother gives more details about her perspective of what happened next.
“She had been told this person has to have lived nearby to watch her movements. She had been told someone on her street was a main suspect and just before being shown the four pictures, was told the person they were looking at had no alibi for that day. Four random pictures shown for no more than two seconds each. The victim thought each one looked familiar and got more upset as seeing each one so afraid she was about to see her rapist. She had been adamant all along that she never saw a face but she had also been told memories could surface days after the event…which is why she wouldn’t close her eyes to sleep..so afraid she would remember. But here she was faced with photos and led to believe one of them was the guy and she did want the guy caught so he couldn’t hurt her or anybody else again. Three pictures..b&w smudged. The last picture in color. By that time, she was distraught and had a complete physical reaction. Screamed, threw up, and had two back to back seizures (she had been seizure free for a year and a half). When she came to and composed herself she did say 150-percent that was him. She was going by her body’s reaction..it had to be him, right?”
However, it wasn’t Henderson. He was at his job on security camera which would later exonerate him – but not before he was arrested while at work by Greene County authorities.
“She didn’t even know him, had no reason to choose him, but she had seen him on her street and the suggestion had been made,” wrote the mother. “She is ashamed and sorry for any pain she caused because of this but she is not at fault.”
Henderson was brought in for questioning without his name initially being released to the public. A camera crew awaited Henderson at the jail. He was shown being taken in. The following day, a judge found probable cause to detain Henderson for the investigation. He was not formally accused of the crime yet. Unfortunately for Henderson, some media incorrectly reported he was charged (We mentioned this in our story)
As investigators continued looking at the case, so did we. Henderson had posted on Facebook all that week as though nothing unusual had happened. His wife even shared the story about the alleged rape and the manhunt. NEA Report interviewed several members of Henderson’s family. While it was expected they would not believe a relative to be guilty, the timeline of events was off with when he was alleged to have committed the crime, they all said. After our coverage Friday, August 17, investigators followed up at Henderson’s job and found security camera footage which showed him present at the time he was alleged to have raped an innocent victim. They knew then he was innocent.
Friday night, Henderson was released from jail.
As soon as he got out of jail, he spoke to NEA Report. We interviewed him live about the experience. Henderson, his family, and Greene County authorities all expressed thanks for the assistance from our reporting. It was a roller coaster of emotions for Henderson that weekend. On one hand, he was happy to be out of jail after seeing the possibility of his life as a free man coming to an end for something he didn’t do. On the other hand, there was still bad news to come.
Henderson’s job was such a priority to his life that he had mentioned it at his probable cause hearing, KAIT reported. It was a clue to this reporter of his innocence. In disbelief, he presumed he would be released and hoped it was in time to remain employed. As we looked into why, we learned he had a child with a medical condition and he simply hoped to be able to afford care for her. Later that weekend, he would find out he was fired from his job. Even with the sheriff personally attempting to get the employer to take him back, a source told me on condition of anonymity, the employer said they had not been aware of the battery conviction and that was the reason they were terminating him. Arkansas employment laws allow employers to fire employees at will.
Since then, Henderson and his wife have been evicted from their home.
The sheriff’s statement to the press was released that Friday night. He specifically said no danger to the public existed “due to the acts reported.” Many debated the meaning of the words with all agreeing it the innocence of Henderson and some feeling it meant more.
“We would like to advise the public that no citizens are in danger due to the acts reported,” Carter’s email said. “Due to the inaccurate statements made, we are releasing Mr. Henderson from our custody. However, we are continuing a very active investigation into this matter.”
The alleged victim made the inaccurate statements Carter referred to. This was verified by what her own mother wrote in the long Facebook post.
“She did wrongly identify him, but she did not arrest him, did not ask for him to be wrongly jailed,” wrote the alleged victim’s mother.
The mother insists that the alleged victim told the truth that she was raped.
NEA Report has been told that the alleged victim’s statements to authorities have been intensively reviewed since learning of her inaccurate statement identifying Henderson. The sheriff’s department also hoped to learn more from a sexual assault evidence kit which was sent to the Little Rock Crime Lab for testing. But after a month of investigating, there is little movement from a sheriff’s department which is now faced with a case which would be extremely difficult to prosecute without solid evidence due to the unreliability of the alleged victim’s account of events. Without solid evidence of the alleged rape, the department seems unlikely to arrest anyone else.
Yet, without solid proof of the alleged victim being intentionally (and not accidentally) inaccurate, the department can’t be expected to charge what could still possibly be the victim of a traumatic mind-affecting experience. There are many unknowns in the case which may never be revealed. Although many have asked for updates, the public may never know what the alleged victim experienced that day. The only certainty is that leaping to conclusions without evidence to support them can make innocent people into victims.
Henderson knows first hand.