NC Rep. Cody Henson, R-Transylvania, hurries away from reporters attempting to interview him Tuesday morning following his cyberstalking guilty plea in Brevard. Frank Taylor / Carolina Public Press

BREVARD – NC Rep. Cody Henson, R-Transylvania, pleaded guilty to one count of cyberstalking in Transylvania County court Tuesday morning, accepting an agreement with the NC Department of Justice for deferred prosecution and 18 months of probation.

As part of the agreement, Henson will have to obtain a mental health assessment and follow up treatment, complete a domestic violence abuser treatment class and complete a substance misuse assessment and follow up treatment. He will also be denied access to firearms throughout his probation. He already is under a domestic violence order of protection that prevents him having continued contact with his estranged wife, Kelsey Meece.

But the state also accepted a stipulation from Rep. Henson, that he be allowed to travel on legislative business despite his probation. A prepared statement that Rep. Henson’s attorney provided to the news media avoided the word “guilty” and instead described the plea deal as a “Conditional Discharge agreement.” The statement said the lawmaker “intends to fulfill his commitment to represent his district and will not be resigning from office.”

(Editor’s note: On Wednesday, July 24, the day after his resignation and the original publication of this article, Henson reversed course and announced his resignation. To read more, click here.)

Carolina Public Press asked Henson as he left the courthouse whether he believed that he could continue effectively representing his district, which includes Transylvania and Polk counties and part of Henderson County. He walked away without acknowledging the question. Henson, who is in his second term in the North Carolina House of Representatives, said earlier this year that he would not seek reelection in 2020.

Because the plea agreement is a deferred prosecution, if Henson successfully completes his probation and the requirements for assessment and treatment, the misdemeanor charge would be dismissed. The court set July 28, 2020, for Henson to reappear in consideration of that dismissal. His initial 12 months of probation will be supervised, but if he completes all requirements, the judge can make his final six months of probation unsupervised, Department of Justice spokesperson Laura Brewer told CPP.

Addressing the court

Meece addressed the court about her understanding of the plea agreement, to which she did not object. “For me, this process has been exhausting,” she said. “Our marriage was a nightmare. There were lies, infidelity, manipulation and the list goes on. I don’t want to rehash and relive the past but Cody has put me through pure hell and made me feel completely powerless and trapped.”

She has previously described frustrations with trying to navigate the legal system in a county where her husband is a powerful political figure. At one point a magistrate refused to help her after looking up her husband online, she previously told CPP.

“He was able to insert himself into my life and my head whenever he wanted, no matter how much I begged and pleaded for him to stop,” she said. “But this narrative changes today.”

Meece claimed victory, saying she was “beating the odds and facing the giants to take her life back.” “Despite every effort by Cody, his family, and the deep-seeded, right-wing brotherhood that controls this county and state, I am still here.” she said.

Asked by CPP Tuesday afternoon for comment about Henson’s continued presence in the General Assembly, NC House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, declined to comment and said he wants to review the plea agreement first.

Meece’s statement to the court described her personal struggle against the system of which she saw Rep. Henson as a part. “I am still fighting,” she said. “And they are not able to silence me any longer. I have gone from being homeless at 6 months pregnant with a 2-year-old to being a completely independent, strong, and capable woman. I am focused on reaching my goals and giving my children the amazing life they deserve.

“I wish Cody all the best and I hope he has a great life and can be a good father for our children. But I am walking away and washing me hands of every piece of control he once had over me, not because he didn’t realize my worth and value but because I finally realized my own.”

NC Assistant Attorney General Boz Zellinger handled prosecution of Henson because the local district attorney recused himself, having previously supported Henson politically. Zellinger told the court on Tuesday that the state agreed to the conditions of the settlement in large part because Kelsey Henson wanted Rep. Henson to get personal help so that he could be involved in the lives of their two children.

Following Tuesday’s hearing, Meece told CPP that the outcome was not something she foresaw as she sought help early this year. “It’s surprising,” she said.  She also confirmed her desire for a positive outcome for her two children. “Cody is the father of my children and I want him to get the help he needs to be a good father for them,” she said.

Zellinger also described Cody Henson’s erratic behavior since 2017. Zellinger said that in one case he had screamed at Kelsey and threw a full beer can at her in front of their son while she was pregnant. He told her that he was a trained killer, referring to his military experience, and bragged that he would have a team of lawyers behind him due to his political clout, Zellinger told the court. He posted pictures of his guns to social media after one heated argument with his wife. After they broke up, he repeatedly texted her at all hours despite being asked to stop and made disturbing threats, Zellinger said.

Kelsey Meece Henson’s statement to the court:

Rep. Cody Henson’s response

Henson’s guilty plea did not contest the allegations, but it also did not enumerate admission to specific details. A prepared statement his attorney provided to the news media after the hearing said, “In entering the agreement, Rep. Henson does acknowledge, in hindsight, that he was overly zealous in his attempts to save his marriage. He does not regret attempting to keep his family intact, but does now see that his methods were wrong.”

Tuesday’s hearing brought an end to a series of repeated continuances in the case, following Henson’s first appearance in March. With the General Assembly in session, Henson was not present for his previous hearing dates in May 8, June 27 and July 9, but each time the request for a continuance was granted without any public hesitation. Following the most recent continuance on July 9, Henson’s attorney J. Michael Edney, who is also a Henderson County commissioner, told CPP that his client “was needed in Raleigh.” Henson then skipped a House vote on domestic violence orders of protection the following day.

Following Tuesday’s guilty plea, Edney handed out the prepared statement to CPP and WLOS-TV reporters awaiting his client outside the courthouse. Asked when Henson himself would be leaving Edney said that Henson was “already gone.” However, CPP quickly confirmed with courthouse security that this was untrue and the legislator was filling out paperwork for his probation inside the Transylvania clerk’s office.

Henson eventually emerged, but quickly walked away across the parking lot, repeatedly telling reporters to look at the statement from his attorney and declining to provide any other answers.

Statement from Cody Henson to the press after his guilty plea:

Editor’s note: Carolina Public Press capital bureau chief Kirk Ross and lead investigative reporter Kate Martin also contributed to this report. This story may be updated further if more information becomes available.

Kelsey Meece, center, talks with supporters and the news media as she leaves the Transylvania County courthouse on Tuesday, following her estranged husband’s guilty plea to cyberstalking her. Frank Taylor / Carolina Public Press

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