Hensel, Bradley fought at Mary Brown Bridge
Opening statements were made Thursday by the prosecution and defense in the trial of Thorpe Thomas Bradley, who is charged with second-degree unintentional murder while committing third-degree assault.
He is accused of an alleged assault that resulted in the death of Thomas Charles Hensel.
Accounts of Sept. 16, 2006 incident vary, but members of the Bradley family and Hensel family said they were drinking alcohol and were driving around to different locations near Sebeka and Menahga during the day.
Prosecutor Eric Schieferdecker told the jury in his opening statement that the Hensel family and Bradley family had a long history together. Thorpe Bradley dated Thomas and Merrie Jo Hensel's daughter, Anna Hensel, and has two children with her. Bradley stayed with Anna Hensel's family on occasion and also knew her sister, Josephine Thomas.
There was always alcohol and drugs involved, Schieferdecker said.
Thorpe Bradley's father, Thomas Bradley, also lived with the Hensels at one time. His sister, Gladys Bradley, was also friends with the Hensels.
The prosecution said Thorpe Bradley had been drinking alcohol with Thomas Hensel, Merrie Jo Hensel and Thomas Bradley on Sept. 16, 2006. Thorpe Bradley's sister, Gladys Bradley, picked them up at the Hensel residence and brought them to see Thorpe's son, Schieferdecker said.
At some point that day, Thorpe Bradley and Thomas Hensel ended up at the Mary Brown Bridge southeast of Menahga and there was a physical fight, according to the prosecution.
Later, witnesses heard Thorpe Bradley bragging about beating up Thomas Hensel, Schieferdecker said.
Thomas Hensel was in the vehicle in the passenger seat and was thought to be passed out, according to the prosecution. He was left there overnight. The next morning, others thought he was still passed out. At some point, Gladys Bradley saw Thomas Hensel and called 911, Schieferdecker said.
Thomas Hensel was taken to St. Joseph Hospital in Park Rapids and was later transported by helicopter to Merit Care in Fargo. There, he remained in a coma and never regained consciousness. He died Sept. 18, 2006.
Defender Ryan Ries said it was a beautiful autumn day in September 2006 when the Hensels and Bradleys were together. Thorpe Bradley, Thomas Bradley, Thomas Hensel and Merrie Jo Hensel went to see Anna Hensel and to see Thorpe's 6-year-old son. They also went to get alcohol, Ries said.
Later, Tom and Merrie Jo Hensel, Thorpe Bradley, Thomas Bradley and Thorpe's son went to the Mary Brown Bridge, Ries said.
Thorpe Bradley was playing in the river with his son, Ries said. At some point, he said something to Thomas Hensel and Hensel threw punches at Bradley, according to the defense. Thorpe Bradley punched back, Ries said.
After that, there is dispute as to what happened, Ries said.
Later, witnesses saw Thomas Hensel with a bump on his face, according to the defense. He went to a lake with Thorpe Bradley and his son, Ries said. Thomas Hensel fell at some point there, Ries said, which may or may not have contributed to his death.
After that, they headed home and Thomas Hensel was passed out in the passenger seat, which wasn't an uncommon occurrence so he was left there overnight, Ries said.
The next morning, Anna Hensel called and wanted her 6-year-old son brought back to her, Ries said. She was at Gladys Bradley's home. According to the defense, Gladys Bradley called 911.
A story like this is not a good story, Ries said. There are children involved, he said. Thorpe Bradley is asking for the jury to listen fairly to the testimony, Ries said.
The prosecution called Mike Carr Jr. as its first witness. He was asked about an incident that happened Oct. 31, 2001. Carr, who was working as a deputy for the Wadena County Sheriff's Office, was called to the Thomas and Merrie Jo Hensel home for a domestic incident, he said. Merrie Jo Hensel had scratches on her neck, Carr said. Photos were taken as evidence. Thorpe Bradley was arrested for fifth-degree assault. He was convicted of a lesser amended charge of disorderly conduct.
Norm Pettis, who was working as the Sebeka police chief at the time, also responded to the Oct. 31, 2001, incident. Joe Schoon, who was working as a Menahga police officer, responded to the incident as well. They were both also called as witnesses to describe the incident.
Merrie Jo Hensel was called as a witness on Thursday. She talked about her husband, Thomas Hensel, and said he used to do logging, drove truck and had other odd jobs. She said she has an addiction to alcohol and her husband also did. After he stopped trucking about three years before his death, Thomas Hensel was depressed, Merrie Jo said.
Sometimes Thorpe Bradley and her daughter, Anna Hensel, would have arguments. Also, there were arguments between her husband and Thorpe Bradley, she said.
At different times, Merrie Jo said Thorpe Bradley would be asked to leave their home and then would be welcomed back because she had faith in him that he could change.
On Sept. 16, 2006, Merrie Jo Hensel said she remembered going to see her daughter and going to get alcohol. She said she started drinking that morning and blacked out, which happened sometimes. She didn't remember going to the Mary Brown Bridge but remembered waking up the next morning. That morning, Sept. 17, she went to check on her husband in the vehicle after Thomas Bradley told her he was there. Merrie Jo thought he was just passed out, which wasn't unusual, she said.
She remembered taking Thorpe Bradley's son to see his mother that morning and her husband was still passed out in the vehicle, she said. Gladys Bradley and Anna Hensel saw Thomas Hensel and saw fluids coming out of his mouth, Merrie Jo said. Gladys Bradley then called 911.
Anna Hensel was called as a witness. She said her relationship with Thorpe Bradley was good at first and then there were conflicts, which she described as "drunken stupidness."
She recalled the Oct. 31, 2001, incident between Thorpe Bradley and her mother, Merrie Jo Hensel, but didn't know what the argument was about.
During an incident on Aug. 20, 2002, Anna Hensel described an incident when she was elbowed in the face by Thorpe Bradley and thrown into a picture while he was fighting with someone else.
The prosecution asked why she stayed with Thorpe Bradley. She said it was because she wanted a family.
On Sept. 16, 2006, Anna Hensel said she saw Thorpe Bradley and her father Thomas Hensel during the day. She didn't see her father again until the next morning when he was unconscious in the vehicle, she said.
Josephine Thomas, the oldest daughter of Thomas and Merrie Jo Hensel, was called as a witness. She said that Thorpe Bradley and her sister Anna Hensel had a good and bad relationship, depending on the time. She saw them briefly on Sept. 16, 2006, and knew they had been drinking, she said.
Gladys Bradley, sister to Thorpe Bradley, was called as a witness.
She was very close to Thomas Hensel and Merrie Jo Hensel and called them mom and dad, she said. Also, she was very close to Anna Hensel.
Gladys Bradley made the 911 phone call after seeing Thomas Hensel the morning of Sept. 17, 2007. She described seeing him slouched in the seat and saw bruising and swelling on his face and foaming at his mouth.
She recalled some of the day on Sept. 16, 2006, and remembered driving around Thomas Hensel, Thorpe Bradley and others.
The trial was set to continue at 9 a.m. Friday morning.