HARLAN, Ky. – Politicians are known for lame jokes. But when Otis "Bullman" Hensley tried a generations-old Appalachian jest on a woman and two girls at the grocery store, the family thought it was downright criminal.
Hensley, who earned notoriety for oddball antics as a longshot gubernatorial candidate, spent three days in jail in this eastern Kentucky coal town last week after being arrested over the wisecrack.
"Jay Leno makes jokes every night and makes millions," Hensley said in his thick Appalachian accent. "I make one joke and go to jail."
He could have faced as many as 10 years in prison, but a charge of attempted unlawful transaction with a minor was dismissed on Monday.
The ordeal began last week when Hensley's wife sent him to a local grocery store to buy ground beef. While there, Hensley encountered a woman with her two nieces, ages 11 and 13. "I offered to trade her a fattening hog for those girls," Hensley said. "I meant it as a joke. I've said it a million times. Most people get a kick out of it."
The woman didn't laugh. Instead, the family obtained a warrant for Hensley's arrest from the local prosecutor, claiming the comment was intended to entice the children into illegal sexual activity.
On Tuesday, the girls' father accepted an apology from Hensley and shook hands with him in a Harlan County courtroom. The man declined to discuss the case with reporters afterward.
Prosecutor J.D. Smith asked the judge to dismiss the charge, saying both sides want to put the matter behind them.
"He absolutely meant no harm," Smith said of Hensley. "It was a joke to him."
Appalachian scholar Loyal Jones said the jest Hensley made has been around for generations and actually is intended as a compliment.
"I've heard many variations of that," said Jones, retired director of Berea College's Appalachian Center. "You might hear 'That's a good looking boy; I'd trade you a pocket knife for him' ... Political correctness has ruined country humor."
In Kentucky, citizens can obtain arrest warrants simply by filing a complaint with local prosecutors. Defense attorney Karen Davenport said no investigation is necessary for police to make an arrest when the charge involves an alleged sexual offense.
In the Hensley case, Davenport said, the arrest was unwarranted because he had done nothing criminal.
In the last two gubernatorial campaigns, Hensley traveled the state with a giant Fiberglas bull on which he attached a sign proclaiming that, if elected, he would "chase the bull out of Frankfort." He received 3.3 percent of the vote in 2003, his best showing.