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Police: Alleged York City killer's story kept changing

Liz Evans Scolforo

The 16-year-old York City youth charged as an adult with fatally shooting Craig Henise earlier this month confessed to killing the man, but his account of how it happened changed several times during his police interview, according to preliminary hearing testimony.

Unlike Henise's loved ones — and unlike his own mother and grandmother — Bernard H. Simmons III, of 440 Salem Ave., displayed no emotion during his preliminary hearing Thursday morning.

Bernard Simmons III

At the close of the hearing, District Judge Joel Toluba determined enough evidence exists for Simmons to stand trial on charges of homicide and carrying a firearm without a license. Toluba set the teen's formal court arraignment for May 26.

After being arrested by detectives at River Rock Academy, the alternative school he attended, Simmons was brought to the York City Police station. After speaking with his mother there, Simmons confessed to killing Henise, Detective George Ripley said.

Both Ripley and Detective Travis Sowers testified Thursday that Simmons showed little emotion during his police interview.

"He was being a little deceptive (with us) at first," Sowers said, and initially claimed he'd merely been walking to a local convenience store when he heard gunshots and went to investigate.

But after police and his mother urged him to tell the truth, Simmons changed his story, according to detectives.

"Then it was that Mr. Henise had pulled a gun on him,' Sowers recounted. "It (evolved) to where Mr. Henise pulled two guns on him and said, 'I should kill you right now.'"

Self-defense claim: Sowers testified Simmons eventually claimed Henise was running toward him while holding two handguns.

The teen said he pulled out his .40-caliber handgun and fired in what he says was self-defense.

"He said he fired until (the gun) was empty," Sowers said, then ran home.

Craig Henise

Simmons initially told detectives that as he ran home, he stopped at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park along the 300 block of South Penn Street and threw his gun into the Codorus Creek, Sowers said.

"Later on, he told me he gave (the gun) to a friend, who gave it to another friend," said Sowers.

Police said the gun has not yet been recovered.

Hatchet, starter pistol: Ripley testified that officers called to the intersection of West Newton Avenue and Neater Street about 8:40 p.m. April 3 found Henise lying on the ground with multiple gunshot wounds. Henise was "bleeding profusely" from a leg wound and was rushed to York Hospital, he said.

Henise, 50, of Neater Street, had a hatchet, perhaps 12 inches long, in a leather holster attached to his belt or pants, according to Ripley, who said the hatchet was still sheathed.

Later, hospital staff found a starter pistol in a pocket of Henise's pants, Ripley testified.

"It was completely inoperable ... (almost) like it melted," he said. "There's no mechanical function to it at all."

Henise also had a box cutter in his pocket.

Ripley said video surveillance of the intersection from cameras mounted at a nearby church showed Henise, Simmons and two other males talking for about 20 minutes at the corner.

"It just looked like a bunch of people having a conversation," he testified. "There was no aggressive activity ... no one pushed anybody."

Shooting not on camera: Then Simmons and another male walked away and out of view of the camera, according to Ripley.

"Less than a minute later, I see Mr. Henise walking by himself" into the same alley Simmons had walked down, the detective said, adding Henise was walking at a casual pace.

Then, a silhouette can been seen falling to the ground while a second silhouette is seen running away, Ripley testified.

Police: Alleged York City killer and victim were neighbors

Detectives focused on Simmons after getting a call from River Rock Academy.

According to police, Simmons went to school the day after the shooting, confessed to a teacher and asked the teacher how much prison time he was facing.

Police have confirmed Henise and Simmons lived just yards from the homicide scene and were acquainted.

Defense attorney: Defense attorney Korey Leslie said he was appointed to represent Simmons earlier this week.

"We haven't done any investigation of our own yet," he said. "Right now, I believe there's a self-defense claim we're going to present."

Asked about police allegations that Simmons' version of events changed the longer he spoke with police, Leslie shrugged.

"One gun, two guns ... either way, he had a gun, whether it was real or not " — as well as a hatchet, the attorney said of Henise.

Ripley is asking for the public's help in identifying the male who was with Simmons that night and said that person isn't facing charges.

The detective noted that the person who was with Simmons might actually be able to help Simmons, depending on his account of events that night.

Anyone with information can call York City Police at 717-846-1234, or call 911. Or text "yorktips" and your information to 847-411.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.