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Henrikson withdraws guilty plea in oil business murder-for-hire case

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 3, 2015, 8 p.m.

The alleged mastermind in the murder-for-hire plot that left two men dead, including a South Hill businessman, has withdrawn his guilty plea after a judge determined he should serve a life sentence.

James Henrikson, 36, opted out of a plea deal Tuesday that would have required him to give “substantial assistance” to investigators in the deaths of Kristopher “K.C.” Clarke and Doug Carlile. Co-defendants Timothy Suckow and Robert Delao, who already have provided testimony against Henrikson and others, chose to reaffirm their guilty pleas after being offered a chance to withdraw by U.S. District Court Judge Salvador Mendoza.

Mendoza ruled last week the three defendants faced a minimum sentence of life in prison based on the severity of the charges against them in the murder-for-hire plots, a greater penalty than the multiple decades in prison the three men had agreed to in deals with prosecutors leading up to trial.

“Before the Court accepts a plea of guilty, the Court must inform the defendant of, and determine that the defendant understands, any mandatory minimum penalty,” Mendoza wrote in his ruling.

At that hearing Tuesday morning, Henrikson – who has been implicated as the man who ordered the deaths of Clarke and Carlile by Suckow over perceived business threats – chose to withdraw his plea, and a trial was tentatively scheduled for January.

Scott Jones, an assistant U.S. attorney, said he’d request an addition to the plea agreements of all three defendants that they provide “substantial assistance” to investigators. Todd Maybrown, an attorney for Henrikson, said his client would be willing to accept this requirement.

Under that motion, Mendoza could impose a prison sentence less than the mandatory minimum and in line with the provisions of the previously approved plea agreement.

Henrikson then elected to withdraw his guilty plea.

Mendoza had previously ordered Henrikson’s trial take place in Richland due to pre-trial publicity. Carlile was found dead of gunshot wounds in his South Hill home in December 2013. Clarke’s body has not been found, but Suckow said he and Henrikson buried Clarke’s remains at a state park in North Dakota in February 2012.

A hearing was scheduled Dec. 18 to revisit Henrikson’s case.


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