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Henrikson found guilty in murder-for-hire case

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 25, 2016, 4:43 p.m.

James Henrikson (Associated Press)
James Henrikson (Associated Press)

James Henrikson’s greed and vindictive nature left two men dead, one of them in an unmarked grave somewhere in the North Dakota oil lands, a Richland jury ruled unanimously Thursday.

Henrikson, 36, faces at least a decade in prison and a probable life sentence for leading a criminal enterprise that involved soliciting hit men, intimidating competitors and pushing illicit pills in what attorneys called “the Wild West” of the Bakken shale oil fields.

After four weeks of testimony, a jury of five women and seven men returned guilty verdicts on all 11 counts Henrikson faced, most of them involving plots to kill Kristopher “K.C.” Clarke, South Hill businessman Douglas Carlile and several others Henrikson believed had jilted him, according to the prosecution’s case.

Among those who testified against Henrikson was Timothy Suckow, the Spokane Valley resident who said he clubbed Clarke until the 30-year-old’s head “went soft” and unloaded an entire magazine into Carlile on Dec. 15, 2013, all at the direction of Henrikson. Clarke’s body has never been found.

In a statement from the family, Carlile’s son Shane said they were happy with the verdicts and thanked law enforcement and prosecutors for their work on the case.

“Doug was a great man, loved by all who had the pleasure of meeting him, and he is greatly missed,” Shane Carlile wrote. “This verdict will not ease the pain of losing him, but it is a large step in the right direction towards healing.”

Clarke’s mother, Jill Williams, said in a written message she learned the verdict from a court victim advocate and burst into tears.

“We’ve had a very emotional day- we were relived and happy to hear the guilty verdict, but that joy was tinged with sorrow,” Williams wrote. She said her family’s thoughts were also with the Carliles.

The marathon trial began Jan. 25 in Richland, moved because of the pretrial publicity in Spokane surrounding the killings and was halted several times over concerns about jury tampering and false testimony of witnesses.

Robert Delao, the witness who tied Suckow to Henrikson in the months leading to Carlile’s murder, became the target of defense attorneys’ efforts to show the government’s case was built on the self-serving testimony of lying criminals.

A member of the jury, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said much of Delao’s testimony seemed “bogus” but the thousands of text messages seized by investigators supported convictions.

“Obviously Delao was the big standout, he was kind of the center of everything,” the juror said.

Henrikson will be sentenced in Spokane in May. Court officials will prepare a report about how much time Henrikson should serve behind bars.

A five-time convicted felon, Henrikson was also found guilty Thursday of conspiring to distribute heroin. Federal sentencing minimums for drug crimes require that he spend at least a 10 years in prison, before the murder-for-hire sentence is calculated.

U.S. Attorney Mike Ormsby said his office had not yet discussed the length of the prison sentence they would seek against Henrikson and would wait for the pre-sentence report.

“We haven’t talked about that,” said Ormsby, who watched the verdict delivered on a live stream to the Thomas S. Foley U.S. Courthouse in Spokane on Thursday morning. “These are definitely very serious crimes that he’s been found guilty of.”

The guilty verdict was reached just after 10 a.m. Thursday. It took longer to seat a jury from a pool of roughly 300 people than for the remaining 12 to reach a unanimous verdict after weeks of testimony concluded Tuesday.

The jury member said one of her counterparts was sure of Henrikson’s guilt upon entering deliberations, but the group agreed to pore over the evidence. They took a break for the day at 3 p.m. Wednesday because of the length of the trial, she said.

“We reviewed the evidence pretty thoroughly,” the juror said. “It wasn’t automatically like, he’s guilty and that’s that.”

Todd Maybrown, one of two defense attorneys representing Henrikson, declined comment on the case Thursday. He was not in the courtroom when the verdict was read. Henrikson’s other attorney, Spokane-based Mark Vovos, did not return a call seeking comment.

Spokane police quickly identified Henrikson as a suspect after Carlile’s widow, Elberta, phoned 911 from the floor of the couple’s bedroom closet the night he was killed. Within hours, detectives called Henrikson, who told them he had nothing to do with Carlile’s death but that the South Hill businessman owed him millions for a failed oil drilling venture on the Fort Berthold Indian reservation.

When Spokane detectives traveled to North Dakota to question Henrikson again, he slapped one on the back and said, “Sorry you came all this way for nothing,” according to court records.

Delao and Suckow agreed to cooperate with investigators early in 2014, leading to their indictment and later guilty pleas.

Henrikson also pleaded guilty in a deal that called for 40 years in prison. He rescinded that plea a month later, setting up the Richland trial.

Prosecutors will likely seek more than the 40-year agreement at the sentencing hearing. It is tentatively scheduled for May 24.


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