Fox4KC.com -- The co-owner of Schlitterbahn pleaded not guilty Thursday to second-degree murder and several other charges related to the death of a 10-year-old at the KCK water park.
Jeff Henry made his first court appearance in Wyandotte County and entered a not-guilty plea as his journey into the legal system begins.
Henry left court in a suit and tie, now free on bond. But the co-owner of Schlitterbahn was not ready to share his side of the story.
“I am not making any more comments. Do you mind? Just let me go home?” Henry said when confronted by reporters.
He told FOX4 off camera that he is incredibly sorry for Caleb Schwab’s family and soon, he will share his thoughts on facing criminal charges in the 10-year-old’s death on the Verruckt water slide he helped create.
“In his words, told me there’s not a day goes by he doesn’t think about Caleb Schwab,” Henry’s defense attorney Ron Barroso said. “He’s torn apart by what happened out there.”
In court, prosecutors argued Henry should be ordered to wear a GPS tracking device because he is a flight risk. Prosecutors also asked the judge to order Henry to turn over his passport.
A judge agreed Henry should surrender his passport immediately but denied the prosecution’s request he wear a GPS ankle monitor.
“He’s not going anywhere. He wants to come and defend himself against these charges,” Barroso said. “I can tell you the allegations I read in the indictment are ludicrous.”
Henry’s defense team insists he worked hard to make sure Verruckt was safe and that the construction was actually delayed more than a year, not fast-tracked for TV glory as the Kansas Attorney General wrote in the criminal indictment.
“He wanted to make sure it was done in best possible way,” Barroso said.
“How can you do that when you’ve never had experience building a slide like this?” FOX4 asked.
“The thing is he’s had experience building other slides, maybe not as tall as that but he has worldwide reputation for having built other slides,” Barroso said.
Henry’s lawyers also dispute the prosecution’s long list of previous injuries on Verruckt and said Henry’s own claims the “slide could kill him” were dramatized for a TV show.
Their goal is to get to the bottom of what actually happened on the ride when Caleb Schwab died.
“I don’t think there`s ever been established a cause for what happened on that day,” Barroso said. “There’s never been definitive answer, and Jeff Henry wants to find out about that. He wants it for Caleb`s family and for himself as well.”
Right now, Henry and his co-defendants — designer John Schooley and former park operations manager Tyler Miles — are set to be tried together in September. But Henry’s lawyers are hoping for separate trials.
A status check is planned for April 25. The judge indicated based on what is determined during the course of the next few months, he could determine separate trials are warranted.
On Wednesday when Henry bonded out of Wyandotte County Jail, one of his attorney’s, Carl Cornwell, spoke to reporters about the charges against Henry. Watch Cornwell’s statement in the video player below.
“I have read the indictment, and I’ve done this, folks for 41 years, and this indictment which suggests that my client did this under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life is ridiculous,” Cornwell said.
The indictment against Henry shows from August 2014 until Caleb’s death in August 2016, more than a dozen people reported injuries from the ride including concussions, whiplash and herniated spinal disk injuries.
“What they’re trying to do with my client is say that he just didn’t give a damn—that’s really what this is about,” Cornwell said. “That he didn’t give a damn about anybody sliding down that water slide. That’s the furthest thing from the truth—absolutely the furthest thing from the truth. He has compassion. He is concerned.”
The indictment also says emails from Henry shows he had a desire to rush the timeline and in the process skipped fundamental steps in the design process of the ride.
If convicted of murder, Henry could spend anywhere from nine to more than 40 years in prison.