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Hensley calls allegations a misunderstanding

HARLAN — A two-time candidate for governor who is charged with attempting to “entice” a 13-year-old girl and her 11-year-old sister to engage in “illegal sexual activity” says the allegations against him stem from a misunderstanding.

Otis Hensley Jr., 52, is charged with first-degree unlawful transaction with a minor under the age of 16, according to the criminal complaint filed in District Court in Harlan County. Hensley ran for governor in 2003 and 2007 and campaigned around the state on a giant fake bull.

According to the complaint, the father of the two sisters contacted the county attorney about the incident, which allegedly occurred on Monday. The Harlan County Sheriff's Office arrested Hensley on Monday.

No further information about the father's allegations was available in the criminal complaint. County Attorney Fred Busroe could not be reached for comment.

On Tuesday, the father of the girls declined to comment on the incident.The Herald-Leader does not generally identify people who allege sexual abuse

However, Hensley said during an interview Tuesday at the Harlan County Detention Center that the incident was a misunderstanding.

Hensley said he was grocery shopping at Don's Supersaver in Harlan when he saw the two girls and their grandmother.

“The one girl turned around and looked at me and smiled,” Hensley said. “I said ‘Ma'am, do you want to trade them girls for a good fattening hog?' and then I went on into the meat department. That was all that was said.”

(The phrase may be a reference to the long-ago practice of giving farm animals as part of a dowry.)

Hensley said the grandmother became upset and went to tell the girls' father about his comment.

He said he followed the family out of the store and then to the courthouse trying to apologize.

He meant nothing sexual, he said, and uses the phrase often as a joke and a means to “cut up with people” in the county, where he is well-known for his unorthodox campaign style. Just before going into the grocery store, he made the same comment to a woman and young girl in the bank, he said.

When asked what the phrase means to him he said: “It was a joke. I was just being friendly, having fun. I meant nothing by it.”

Harlan County sheriff's deputies arrested Hensley about 6 p.m. Monday. He is charged with first-degree unlawful transaction with a minor, a Class B felony that can carry a sentence of 10 years to 20 years.

Hensley is being held in the Harlan County Detention Center on a $15,000 cash bond. Jail officials say he is in a cell separate from the general jail population for safety reasons.

He has not yet appeared in court and he said he has not seen the charges against him.

Hensley said he did not touch the girls and spoke only to the grandmother. He has asked authorities to give him a lie detector test to prove what he says is true and he says he wants a jury trial.

It was not clear why a scheduled arraignment on Tuesday was delayed.

Hensley has been married to his wife, Sidney, for 30 years. They have two adult children. Otis Hensley is currently not working but spends much of his time trying to get an amusement park built in Bell County.

“I'm used to a big king-size waterbed, sleeping in a big, fine house,” he said. “I can't believe I've been in jail for so long for ... a very stupid thing. I meant nothing by it.”