Records in the RAD and Ananda Hair Studio West were broken into this week, the latest targets of a man police and prosecutors have described as a habitual criminal, William Jeter Henson III. // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

The arrest this week of a convicted felon who police say broke into two River Arts District businesses — while out of jail on charges from a rash of other break-ins — is renewing concerns about Buncombe County’s bond system.

Two neighboring businesses on Paynes Way, a record store and a hair salon, were the latest targets of a man police and prosecutors have described as a habitual criminal, William Jeter Henson III.

When patrol officers found Henson about 2 a.m. Thursday, in a bush near the businesses with shattered windows, according to police, he already had more than a dozen pending breaking and entering charges, a lengthy criminal record that included prison time, and a recent grand jury indictment on charges of habitual breaking and entering.

His journey through the criminal justice system is renewing attention on a bond system that critics say is too lenient on serious crimes and returns repeat offenders to the streets.

“This has been a consistent problem where people charged with crimes are bonded out and then commit more crimes while they’re out on bail,” Asheville Police Chief David Zack said in an interview. “We’ve seen this time and again.”

Asheville Watchdog reported in Part 7 of its “Down Town” series on the revolving door of Buncombe’s criminal justice system that saw dozens of people, many of them unhoused and severely mentally ill, cycle through the jail, arrested, released and arrested again, sometimes the same day.

Reaction to Henson’s newest arrest among the 10 businesses that have been burglarized over the past six months ranged from frustration to compassion toward a man whose address is listed as a homeless shelter in several court documents.

Ananda Hair Studio West has encountered broken windows and damage three times – once this week and twice in December.

Kim Buhler of Ananda Hair Studio West looks out a glass door that was repaired after this week’s break-in. // Watchdog Photo by Starr Sariego

“When it was happening in December, we kind of felt bad because it’s when we had that really cold snap,” said Kim Buhler, who works at the salon. “We’re like, okay, we kind of get that, like, desperation. Maybe they were looking for money or something so they can find a warm place to stay.

“But then, it happened again.”

The Public Defender’s Office, which is representing Henson, did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Asheville Police Capt. Joe Silberman said Henson “obviously has a problem and releasing him back into the environment where his problem is, isn’t helping him.”

‘Smash and grab’

Henson, 42, has an arrest record in Buncombe County dating to 1997 that includes 21 breaking and entering-related charges, Silberman said.

William Jeter Henson, III was arrested this week while out of jail on similar charges related to a rash of break-ins in West Asheville and the River Arts District. // Credit: Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office

In August 2019, police responding to an alarm at a recycling business near Biltmore Village arrested Henson and charged him with the break-ins of seven businesses. He was convicted on burglary-related charges and sent to prison, where he served 13 months before being released in January 2022, records show.

His parole ended in October 2022, two months before police say Henson broke into eight more Asheville businesses.

“It’s smash and grab, that’s what he does,” Silberman said.

Businesses reported doors and windows broken after hours, usually with a rock or a piece of lumber, and cash drawers taken.

Surveillance cameras at Bottle Riot, a bar and lounge in the River Arts District, led to Henson’s arrest in January, said owner Barrett Nichols. Video showed a man smashing a window and passing up liquor bottles apparently in search of cash, which was locked up, he said.

“I don’t know why he’s out of jail,” Nichols said. “I’m just appalled that someone arrested so fresh goes right back to the same place and does it again.”

Henson was charged in the break-ins of Bottle Riot and seven other businesses, including the Bull and Beggar restaurant next door.

The businesses victimized this week, Records in the RAD and the salon, are adjacent to Bull and Beggar and Bottle Riot.

A window pane is boarded up after this week’s break-in at Records in the RAD, one of two River Arts District businesses that were victimized. // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

“This is the second time [Henson’s] been on Paynes Way,” Silberman said. “And so he obviously knows and is comfortable operating in the area.”

Low bonds an old problem, chief says

Henson was out of jail on bond after being arrested Jan. 18 and charged with nine counts of breaking and entering and seven counts of larceny after breaking and entering.

A magistrate — an independent judicial officer of the court — sets bonds, taking into account factors including the seriousness of the charges, prior criminal records and the likelihood of the person appearing in court. Judges can modify bond amounts or types and impose other conditions of release.

Following his January arrest, Magistrate M. P. Moss set Henson’s bond at $10,000 secured, meaning he needed to pay a bondsman 10 percent, or $1,000, to get out. The bond order noted “multiple felony convictions in Buncombe and McDowell counties.”

Henson was released from jail March 17, the day after District Court Judge Edwin D. Clontz changed his bond from secured to unsecured, meaning he could leave and pay only if he failed to appear in court. 

Clontz could not be reached for comment.

In April, a grand jury hearing evidence from prosecutors in the December/January break-ins indicted Henson on more serious charges of habitual breaking and entering.

Asheville Police Chief David Zack // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

Zack said low bonds by Buncombe magistrates and judges is “an old problem, and it’s a problem that’s been pretty much expressed by chiefs of police throughout Buncombe County.”

“Several chiefs and myself met over two years ago,” he said. “I’ve seen no progress.” 

Zack said Clontz “has to explain what his rationale was, which we know he won’t, but here we are. Some judges seem to recognize the concerns for the community and others, you know, seem to be indifferent to it.”

When Henson was arrested again this week on two charges of breaking and entering and larceny after breaking and entering, Magistrate Raymond Harrell set his bond at $8,000 secured – lower than in January even though Henson was accused of committing new crimes while out on his previous arrest.

In court Thursday, District Court Judge Julie Kepple doubled Henson’s bond to $16,000 secured. He remained in jail as of Friday.

Chief Magistrate Danny Cowan did not respond to an email request for comment. 

Henson was supposed to engage with mental health providers and reside in an assisted living facility in Candler as a condition of the bond modification made by Clontz in March. Court documents do not indicate whether he complied.

Zack said he’s sympathetic to unmet mental health needs, a theme that emerged in the Watchdog’s “Down Town” series and surfaced again this week with the arrest of a man for stabbing a dog to death at a North Asheville park while its owner played pickleball.

“Everybody is concerned about the infrastructure that we have to support people who suffer from severe mental health issues,” Zack said. “Getting support for people is what we all want, but I also don’t think the answer is just to turn them back out into the street.”

The chief brought up the topic of repeat offenders and inadequate bonds at a June 16 “Anti-Crime Summit” hosted by Congressman Chuck Edwards at the A-B Tech Community College. 

“Cops are doing their job,” Zack said at the summit. “But we can’t have a revolving door in the magistrate’s office.”

Zack turned to a prosecutor and said, “I’m hearing time and again, the DA will get  — and you better agree with me on this — How many times has your office had to go in and request higher bond?”

“We do that routinely,” the prosecutor answered.

“Why?” Zack said. “Magistrates operate in complete anonymity. That’s a problem.”

District Attorney Todd Williams said he could not comment on specific cases but supports a bill passed by the North Carolina General Assembly and sent to the governor this week that would “provide substantial reform to pretrial release procedures in NC.” Zack also supports the bill.

“This new legislation includes provisions that will require a judge rather than a magistrate to set conditions of pretrial release for individuals who are alleged to have committed a new offense after having been previously released from custody on other pending charges,” Williams said via text message. “To quell recidivism in the community it would be my preference that individuals who are charged with committing new crimes after being released previously on a bond, be held without bond or under a secured bond several orders of magnitude higher than the bond originally imposed.”

‘A large blow’ to volunteer organization

The changes won’t help the Ananda salon, which will now have to pay $475 to replace the door plus a broken garage door window, Buhler said. The salon replaced the glass twice in December.

“These people who run these businesses, they’re small businesses, they’re there one month to the next,” said Silberman, the police captain. “A window to them is a lot of money in their bottom line, and it could be the difference between being in the black and being in the red.”

Story Parlor in West Asheville, an art space dedicated to storytelling, was among the businesses police say Henson broke into in January.

A large window was broken along with a Square terminal used to process credit card payments, said Erin Hallagan Clare, founder and artistic director.

“The cash drawer was found completely kind of smashed up with everything inside taken, in the neighborhood,” Clare said. “The window was almost a grand to replace. We are a volunteer-run arts organization. At that point, we weren’t even in our first year.”

Story Parlor set up a GoFundMe page.

The smashed window at Story Parlor “was a large blow” to the volunteer-run arts organization. // Credit: GoFundMe

“This seemingly small amount is a large blow to our bottom line,” the page said. “We’re grateful for this community and more than anything are relieved no one was hurt in these burglaries, and hope the individual responsible finds help after these acts of desperation.”

The campaign raised quadruple the amount needed for repairs, leaving extra for “an emergency fund” and additional security, Clare said.

“It’s unfortunate” Henson was arrested again on new charges, she said, “but it’s not a surprise.”

Staff writer John Boyle contributed to this report.

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Sally Kestin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. Email Andrew R. Jones is a Watchdog investigative reporter. Email

19 replies on “Jail bond system criticized after rearrest of man charged as habitual criminal”

  1. Amen. Recidivism is rampant here in Asheville(and elsewhere). Victims pay a bigger price than repeat criminals. Yes, our policies on homelessness and drug addiction need to be addressed and reformed. But do prosecution and the bond system.

  2. Thanks for this report, provides a much better understanding of the many parts of the broken system. If they fix the bond issue, we’re going to need a bigger jail.

  3. While I am a huge fan of the Watchdog, I was disturbed by the lack of balance in this story. While of course a “revolving door” approach to habitual criminals is appalling, the old system, whereby potentially innocent, but impoverished victims rotted in jail prior to their trial for months or even years, because of their inability to make bail, while wealthy defendants walked away, is equally grotesque. There are fair algorithms that determine whether to release a pretrial defendant. They weigh various factors such as likelihood to show up for trial or reoffend, prior criminal record, etc. These neutral algorithms, not a defendant’s economic status, should be use in determining whether to release an arrestee prior to their trial.

    1. I have been investigating/following this bail/bond mess for over two years now. No one is complaining about a first time offender that reasonably meets criteria for release (I’ve reviewed this criteria and it is largely sound).

      But what we have been seeing is overuse or misuse or “stretching” of the criteria to offer very low bonds for serious stuff. For example, what would you thing about a magistrate that gives a $10,000 bond ($1000 to be released) to a convicted felon who is arrested and found to have a gun. Conviction of this offense is another felony and most states have minimum sentencing of 5-6 years or more for this offense.

      Yet I can assure you we have magistrates here in Buncombe County that have provided such low bail routinely for this very situation.

      This is a slap in the face of common sense and an insult to hard-working citizens of this city that want some level of safety in their lives. A convicted felon arrested with a firearm should not get bail or have a very high level set. Period.

      This is the kind of crap we’re talking about.

  4. My fear is Mr. henson will one day encounter someone at a business late at night/ early morning and his breaking and entering crime spree will escalate to a very serious crime involving hurting someone or worse. Maybe then he will have a high enough bond to hold him. Until then, we are at the mercy of the magistrates and judges discretion. I do not think that system of justice is very fair to the victims, but here we are.

  5. Judges like Clontz are harming our community in a great many ways by continuing to operate in such a manner. Among other things, he is undermining recruiting and costing tax payers: do you think police officers from other cities would really want to come here and work under such a ludicrous system? Salaries are only part of this bizarre puzzle.

    1. Clontz is a key part of the major problems in our city and his record is questionable. Google him. Clearly this city needs to run balanced judges for office. Why would the police bother arresting these people? Its catch and release.

      AVL Watchdog is truly watchdogging. Thank you.

      1. And if judges like Clontz would not personally wish to house these offenders while out on bail, they must really think about who they are setting loose.

  6. Why no restitution or community service? None of this makes any sense to answer for responsibility or how to motivate to decrease destruction of private property.

    1. The idea of this is nice but practically it does not work very well. The people doing the damage frequently do not have the ability to pay. I had a similar broken window event years ago in another city. The offending person was arrested, convicted and went to jail. About 6 years later I did receive a small restitution payment from his jail wages (<$1/hour) which covered about 1/2 of the replacement cost.

  7. but, but, wait! We live in a blue city within a blue county. We cannot expect more that a trivial slap on the hand to anything we think is criminal. These “powers that be” are controlling the police force…remember the defund the police movement…with that attitude, crime can certainly run rampant. Thankfully, the remaining police are willing to do their job, but it is getting thankless with magistrates, judges, and DAs letting things criminals go back on the streets. So, we are just like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle…continue the blue cities. As we continue, our crime rate will be more and more noticed in the news and our tourist trade decrease…(I think it already has decreased, trying to find the numbers on that)

  8. Our local leaders supported county staff to write and secure a 1.1 million dollar grant to keep people out of jail. Yes folks, you heard that right. Mentally ill people who commit one crime after another should apparently be set free again and again.

    There is a middle ground between the far left and the far right. Keep the violent offenders locked up. Especially the ones who keep committing crimes. They are off the streets, get three meals a day and free bed in jail. Tell me that is worse than shooting dope between your toes, robbing our shopkeepers and disrupting this entire city.

    There is a big difference between giving chances to a young person who makes mistakes a few times vs these thugs and drug addicts that will never stop until we set a boundary.

    1. Maybe our local ‘leaders’ should apply for a grant that compensates local businesses for damages done by repeat offenders these genius judges repeatedly release.

  9. The headline alone is an oxymoron. Had me laughing. Low or no bond leads to repeated crimes. Well someone finally woke up and read the tea leaves. Bond is your non violent deterrent. Put it high enough and folks think about repeating the crime. Confiscate property, cars, etc and crime will drop. Not to mention, police departments will have increased revenue when auctioning off the confiscated items. Do you know other states take your boat, car, and fine you just for fishing license violations.

  10. Good article. The only point to clarify is that persons who fail to appear on unsecured bonds do not end up paying any money. That may be the pie-in-the-sky theory, but no one has the extra hours to chase blood from turnips.

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