Transylvania County Courthouse in Brevard.

NC Rep. Cody Henson, R-Transylvania, who pleaded guilty Tuesday to cyberstalking his estranged wife, announced his resignation from the NC General Assembly on Wednesday morning.

The announcement was a reversal of course from Tuesday, when Henson issued a statement saying he would not resign and accepted a probation deal with the NC Department of Justice that would have allowed him to travel to Raleigh on legislative business.

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

In his letter Wednesday, Henson said representing his district was “the honor of my lifetime” and he was thankful for the opportunity. “At this time it is more important that I be home and focused on my two beautiful children.”

He submitted a letter to the House Principal Clerk and copied House Speaker Tim Moore. Henson’s resignation is effective as of noon, Friday, July 26.

In a longer message posted to his Facebook page, Henson said he was “overly zealous in trying to save my marriage and mistakes were made.”

Denying accusations after pleading guilty

Despite pleading guilty to the allegations Tuesday and declining to contest them when they were read into the court record, Henson’s Facebook statement appeared to walk back his courtroom admission of guilt.

“Many of the statements made in court yesterday by the assistant attorney general and circulated by the media were based on false and unsubstantiated claims by my estranged wife,” Henson’s Wednesday morning post said. “However, I do not wish to rehash this any further. The matter is settled.”

Jeffrey Welty, who works in the area of criminal law and procedure at the University of North Carolina School of Government, talked with Carolina Public Press late Wednesday about whether Henson’s recent remarks create a legal problem.

“A guilty plea generally requires the defendant to admit, in open court, that he is in fact guilty of the crime and that there are sufficient facts to establish his guilt,” Welty said in an email.

“He doesn’t necessarily have to agree to all the specific facts presented by the prosecution. Unless a particular defendant’s specific plea agreement or conditional discharge agreement limits what he can say outside of court, there’s no specific consequence for someone who pleads guilty on one day and claims to be innocent – or less guilty – the next day.”

Asked Wednesday about Henson’s remarks, NC Department of Justice spokesperson Laura Brewer said the agency would not comment.

Neither Henson nor his attorney replied to requests for comment regarding Henson’s characterization of his wife’s accusations as false.

Henson’s estranged wife, Kelsey Meece, told the court Tuesday she initially could not get anyone to take her seriously when she tried to report his abusive behavior because Henson is in the legislature. She filed for and was granted a domestic violence protection order in February.

Then, in March, the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office issued a criminal summons to Henson for cyberstalking.

Meece read a victim impact statement in court on Tuesday. She said that Henson “has put me through pure hell and made me feel completely powerless and trapped.”

Among the accusations that NC Assistant Attorney General Boz Zellinger and Meece made in open court Thursday were that Henson had on one occasion screamed at his wife and thrown a full beer can at her while she was pregnant. After the two broke up, Henson repeatedly sent messages to his wife at all hours despite repeated requests that he stop, according to statements in court Tuesday.

Henson pleaded guilty to one count of cyberstalking, but the misdemeanor charge will be dropped from his record if he successfully completes ordered treatment and probation. He must obtain mental health and substance abuse assessments and attend follow-up treatment and complete a domestic violence abuser treatment class.

Henson is also under a domestic violence protection order that prevents him from contacting his estranged wife. He is also denied access to firearms throughout his 18-month probation.

Replacing Henson

Henson’s district includes Transylvania and Polk counties, plus a substantial portion of Henderson County. A replacement for a state legislator is normally chosen through the county executive committees of the party that nominated him for office, in this case the Republican Party.

Henderson County Republic Party chairwoman Merry Guy talked with CPP about the situation Wednesday afternoon, saying she expected the committees from Polk, Transylvania and Henderson to meet in the near future to select a replacement. Calling Rep. Henson a friend, she said, ‘We are going to miss him.”

It’s not yet clear how quickly that process would move forward. Although nearly done with legislative business for the current session, the General Assembly is expected to return for additional work in August. If there are no additional special sessions this year, lawmakers would next meet in early 2020 for the “short session,” which takes place during election years.

Henson, who was in his second term, said earlier this year that he did not plan to seek reelection.

Jake Johnson of Polk County told CPP on Wednesday that he plans to lobby the party to appoint him to fill the vacancy. He announced in April, after Henson said he wouldn’t run again, that he would seek to fill the seat in the 2020 election.

“I hated what happened with Cody, but that’s his decision,” Johnson said. “We are praying for him and wish him well, and we are glad he’s getting to spend more time with the kids.”

Screen grab of Cody Henson’s Facebook post announcing his resignation on Wednesday.

Editor’s note: This is a developing story and may be updated if more information becomes available.

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