Schlitterbahn co-owner pleads not guilty to murder, other charges in first court appearance

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- 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.

Jeff Henry leaving Wyandotte County Court

“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.

Caleb Thomas Schwab

“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.

The Verruckt water slide at the Schlitterbahn in Kansas City, Kansas.

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.

Cornwell's full statement:

My client just made bond. He wants to talk to everybody, and I’m going to try to get that arraigned today. I don’t know if I’ll be successful, but I’m going to try to get it arraigned today. He has a statement he’d like to say.

I’m going to go meet him in a little bit and let him get cleaned up, let him eat, let him get some sleep. He had a long, long trip yesterday. We have a hearing tomorrow at 2 o’clock in front of Judge Burns. Judge Burns is going to decide whether or not my client has to have a GPS put on his ankle—global positioning. We’re going to argue against it. There’s no reason for it. We just made the bond. The bond is $500,000. His family has stepped forward, and there’s no way, reason, anything to suggest my client is a danger to society or a flight risk, which is what bonds are designed to do.

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.

What he wants to say, and what I want to say first is this is not about him. This is about that little boy and the two other people who were injured. And, the other folks who have had their names put in this indictment.

What happened? There’s a civil suit. The civil suit is done. Liability was found, or liability wasn’t found. People decided that’s what they needed to do and just filed--they filed it and paid the money.

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. 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, and he said this is not about me the first time I met him today. This is not about me, this is about that little boy, and we’re going to find out what happened.

So, we look forward to trying this case. We’re going to be there tomorrow at 2 o’clock which starts the speedy trial, and we’re going to aggressively fight this.

This is a case where they’re going to try to put my client into the penitentiary for 117 months—10 years. This is just ridiculous.

When asked why he thought the charges were brought against Henry:

I have no idea. I could probably venture to guess, but I’d probably swear so I probably better not.

It makes no sense to me that it’s a criminal case. It’s just not.

I drive by there all the time, and you see that slide and you just think about the terror that family and obviously that little boy and the other two people went through.

We’re going to get to the bottom of this, and we’re going to figure out what happened.

The justice system is going to grind away, but it’s going to grind real fine. And, we’re going to get to the bottom of this and get the true word out, which doesn’t come in in a grand jury. It’s just one side.

When asked if it makes a difference whether Caleb was the son of a law maker:

Not a bit. I don’t think he had anything to do with this. I don’t think it was political. I have some information as to why it was filed, but I’m not privy. to say that right now. It had nothing to do with politics.