Robert Lewis Henderson Jr..jpg

Robert Lewis Henderson Jr.

On Tuesday, Nov. 23, a Butts County jury found Robert Lewis Henderson Jr, 38, of Flovilla, guilty of voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault in the Oct. 31, 2019 shooting death of Nicholas Phinazee Bryan, 27, of Milner, at the Waffle House at 3201 Ga. Highway 36 West.

Henderson’s trial began last week. Due to Henderson being the son of a Butts County commissioner and Bryan being related to a Butts County judge, Judge Robert L. Mack from Clayton County presided over the trial, held at the Central Georgia EMC Annex, while two prosecutors from the Clayton County District Attorney’s Office presented the state’s case.

Both the prosecution and defense presented witnesses, along with video surveillance footage from various cameras both inside and outside the restaurant, and body-cam footage from the first deputies to arrive on the scene.

What the two sides could agree on was that Henderson and Antonio DeMarty Evans, 41, of Flovilla, were at the restaurant about 10:45 p.m. on Oct. 31, 2019 with Henderson’s girlfriend and Evans’ wife when an inebriated Bryan walked in and made several racial slurs toward them and the Black cook, including the use of the "N" word.

Evans, Henderson and Bryan stepped outside once to talk, and Evans and Bryan walked back inside while Henderson said he went to his truck to call 911 before going back inside. Once inside, Bryan again said something to the cook and he was asked to leave.

Witnesses said they heard Bryan threaten to kill someone using profanity and the "N" word again. He and Evans began to fight in the foyer of the restaurant, at which time Henderson fired one shot, striking Bryan. Bryan was transported to Monroe County Hospital in Forsyth where he later died at approximately 3 a.m.

Butts County Sheriff’s deputies arrived on the scene, but shortly after, Sheriff Gary Long asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigations to handle the investigation because of Henderson's and Bryan's Butts County connections.

Following the GBI investigation, Henderson was charged with one count of felony murder, one count of aggravated assault, and one count of possession of a firearm in the commission of a crime. Evans was charged with tampering with evidence. Both men turned themselves in at the Butts County Sheriff’s Office on Nov. 6, 2019.

During closing arguments on Monday, defense attorneys claimed that Henderson shot Bryan in self-defense because he thought Bryan was threatening to kill him and possibly had a weapon, adding that with the history of racial aggression in Butts County, when a white man calls a Black man the "N" word and threatens to kill him, shouldn’t he feel threatened.

But the prosecutor said the fight was between Bryan and Evans, not Henderson, and that they were going to settle it with fists, not a gun. She closed her argument by stating that while there was no excuse for Bryan using the "N" word, there was no justification for his death, and then had the jury watch the surveillance videos that showed what had occurred.

The jury was charged by Judge Mack and received the indictments about 6:20 p.m. The jury, made up of six men and six women, four Black and eight white, deliberated about an hour Monday evening, then began again Tuesday morning at 9 a.m., deliberating for just short of six hours more before delivering the verdict to the judge at 2:55 p.m.

Henderson was originally charged with felony murder, but the jury chose to convict him on a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. They also convicted him of aggravated assault, but due to a misunderstanding of the charge, found him not guilty of possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.

Henderson’s defense attorney asked for a sentencing hearing, and Judge Mack agreed, stating that the hearing will be held sometime in December. Henderson was remanded to the custody of the Butts County Sheriff’s Office and he was transported to the Jasper County Jail for housing until his sentencing hearing.

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Senior Reporter

I have worked for community newspapers in Butts, Henry, Newton, Rockdale, and Upson counties for 30 years. I was Editor of the Jackson Progress-Argus from 1993-1999, and returned to the Progress-Argus as Senior Reporter in 2019.

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