Woman refuses to speak during court appearance via video

A Briarcliff woman with a history of attacking people inside and outside Baxter County Jail, and for remaining silent during court appearances continued her silent treatment during a Baxter County Circuit Court session recently. Twenty-nine-year-old Vanessa Renee Henschel appeared on a video login from the McPherson Unit of the Newport State Prison System where she is serving time for a previous conviction.

Deputy Public Defender James Wallace told Circuit Judge John Putman that the final psychological examination ordered for Henschel had not been completed.

Records show the examination was not completed because Henschel was uncooperative.

Wallace wanted the review completed, and the state made no objection. Prosecutor David Ethredge said Henschel could be found fit to prosecute and criminally liable for her actions even if she refused to speak to the examiner.

Ethredge said it wanted to be able to dispose of the two active cases against Henschel, both filed in 2020.

During the discussion of the unfinished psychological examination, Henschel stared straight ahead and said nothing.


Henschel’s appearance on Monday dealt with charges she filed in late January 2020 for attacking a landlord at a residence along County Road 15 after using the man’s truck without permission to take a trip into town and return.

While in jail on charges stemming from the alleged attack, Henschel got in trouble for punching a jailer on the left side of her face and head using her left fist and forearm.

The jailer recovered from the blow and attempted to restrain Henschel, but the inmate continued to be combative. After help arrived, Henschel was placed in a restraint chair for a brief period before being returned to her living area.

Henschel’s attack on the jailer resulted in charges of second degree battery and endangering the operation of a vital public facility. She also attacked a number of fellow inmates for no apparent reason, according to incident reports filed by the sheriff’s office.


In the January case, Henschel is charged with aggravated residential burglary, theft of property, aggravated assault and 3rd degree assault.

According to the probable cause affidavit filed in the 2020 case, the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office received a report of a burglary at a residence along County Road 15 in late January.

The owner said he arrived home to see his truck pull into the driveway leading to his residence. He said he saw a woman, later identified as Henschel, exit the truck and enter the garage. He told investigators he followed her and made contact in the garage.


After a conversation, Henschel allegedly punched the owner in the head, then armed herself with a pair of “hedge trimmers” and attempted to attack him.

The victim went to a neighbor to call 911.

The first Baxter County investigator on the scene recognized Henschel from previous encounters. The investigator asked Henschel what she was doing on the property. Unlike her court appearances, she spoke to the investigator, telling him she lived there.

The investigator asked her where she had been in the owner’s truck and she said she had been “to town and back”.


The owner and the investigator walked through the residence. They saw that the window above the kitchen sink had been smashed and blood was found on the sink and the floor.

It appeared that Henschel helped herself to snacks and a soft drink and rested in one of the bedrooms. They also found open dresser drawers and $60 in cash missing from a closet. The owner’s wife said clothes and jewelry were also stolen.

It was determined that Henschel was wearing some of the missing clothing and jewelry at the time of his arrest.


Over the years, Henschel has used his fists, a knife, a backpack, a forearm, and a hedge trimmer against his victims.

Among the victims are a former friend, her father, jailers and fellow prisoners. According to court records, the attacks were unprovoked.

Henschel had undergone several psychological evaluations to determine her fitness to pursue her cases and whether she could be held criminally responsible for her actions.

All but the last review have determined that she can be held liable. There was no report on the last assessment due to Henschel’s lack of cooperation.


During his time in prison, Henschel racked up nearly 40 major disciplinary breaches.

Violations include insolence towards a staff member, threatening to inflict injury, assault, disobeying orders, refusing to submit to drug tests, throwing or attempting to throw of substances and interference with operations.

The last offenses noted in his file were refusing to submit to a drug test and battery, both of which occurred on September 13 last year.


Henschel’s refusal to speak would have been treated differently in the British legal system of old. A process rarely used today allowed for a separate trial to allow a jury to determine the reason for an accused’s refusal to speak.

The jury could declare the defendant “mute from malice” or “mute due to a visitation from God”. In the past, if a defendant was mute by choice, he could be tortured until one of two things happened: he spoke or he died.

In the United States and most other countries, a defendant enjoys a constitutionally protected right not to speak during court proceedings or police questioning.

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