Update: Defendant in Hendershot trial takes the stand
PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) - The defendant took the stand Wednesday afternoon in the second-degree murder trial of James Thomas Hendershot.
After two days of police and emergency responders testifying Hendershot said he had had an argument with his father, James Clinton Hendershot, four days before the elder Hendershot’s body was found. the younger Hendershot said he doesn’t remember saying any of that or even talking to police who responded to the family home.
“J.T.” Hendershot said he had memory problems, prompting his attorney to request jurors consider a possible verdict of not guilty by reason of mental illness.
Judge Robert Waters denied the request, and prosecution attorneys noted Hendershot was previously determined to be competent to stand trial.
In further testimony, Hendershot said he had been close to his mother but had little to do with his father.
He accompanied the family to his mother’s surgery in Clarksburg, January 12, 2018, but returned home the same day with his father while his sister stayed with their mother in Clarksburg.
Hendershot said that when police arrived at the family home on January 25, the day his father’s body was discovered, he stayed outside.
”I remember talking to people outside my house,” he recalled. “There was police at the end of the road...I went in the house and smoked a cigarette, and they took me to jail.”
Assistant Prosecutor Heather Nicholson asked most of the questions of Hendershot. After his attorney Reggie Bailey called him to the stand, the only questions he asked were whether Hendershot hurt his father. He replied no.
He said blood found in the living room was actually fingernail polish.
Hendershot’s testimony came after forensics experts took the stand, saying samples taken from the home tested positive for blood-and matched blood found on the elder Hendershot.
West Virginia Medical Examiner, Dr. Piotr Kubiczek, said the cause of death was blunt force injuries to the head, consistent with a homicide.
The trial jury is expected to receive the case for deliberations, likely by noontime Thursday.
First responders and police who questioned J.T. Hendershot at the time of the discovery of his father’s body, were told the two had had an argument at the family home in Parkersburg.
“He said, ‘I think it’s my dad’, that he had been away for three or four days doing a walk-around, and they had been fighting,” said Lt. John Bartenschlag of the Parkersburg Fire Department. “We questioned him again, and he said he had been walking around the city.”
The elder Hendershot’s body was found in a bedroom, but several officers and detectives who testified said there was blood as far away as the living room.
“The blood trail led all the way to the back bedroom,” said Jeremy Pinkerton, then a detective with the Parkersburg Police Department.
Responders also said they found what appeared to be blood on the left side of the elder Hendershot’s head.
Also a part of the state’s evidence: a golf putter found outside the door of the bedroom; club responders had to dislodge from the bedroom door when they first arrived.
“I did notice a golf club that appeared to have skin and hair that was laying about halfway out from under the deceased,” said Curtis Thomas, Deputy Wood County Coroner. “I believe (the skin and hair) was on the head of the club.”
Authorities had first been dispatched to the home for what is known as a welfare check: a call to look in on someone who had not made contact with family members for several days.
The prosecution presents witnesses again beginning Wednesday morning.
When her husband died in January 2018, Joan Hendershot was in a Clarksburg hospital, recovering from recent surgery.
Both James C. Hendershot and their son, James T., or “J.T.”, had been at the hospital on January 12, when she was admitted.
James T. is now on trial, charged with second-degree murder and concealment of a deceased human body.
Their daughter, Sarah Jones, says J.T. often had erratic behavior, which showed that day.
“His behavior wasn’t of a normal person,” Jones recalled in court Monday. “He was walking back and forth, and saying, ‘let’s go do this, let’s go back home.’
Home is where the elder Hendershot’s body was found on January 25, 2018. James and J.T., at Sarah’s urging, had gone home the day of the surgery.
Police interviewed J.T. after the discovery.
”And he then speaks to the defendant and says, ‘when was the last time you saw your dad?’”, Assistant Wood County Prosecutor Heather Nicholson argued Monday in opening statements. “(Hendershot) responds, ‘about four days ago-we were arguing’. And Officer Garten asks, did your argument ever become physical’? And the defendant says, ‘I don’t want to answer that question’.”
James T.’s attorney, Reggie Bailey, argued there’s no evidence J.T. caused his father’s death.
“No evidence of malice, no evidence of intent,” Bailey told the jury. “The time of death is unknown. They can’t tell you exactly how blunt force was administered, how it occurred, or what instrument may have caused that.”
What is known is pictures shown by the jury, taken by the hospital’s security cameras, show the last times James C. Hendershot was seen by most of his family, alive.
Part of the significance of this trial is that it’s the first murder trial held in Wood County in nearly two years. It, and others, have been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s being held at the Parkersburg City Building, due to social distancing requirements.
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