The trial of accused murder-for-hire mastermind James Henrikson, now in its third week, will continue despite calls for a mistrial that sent jurors home Tuesday.
U.S. District Court Judge Salvador Mendoza said there was still time for defense attorneys to question Robert Delao, the man who said he brokered a deal between Henrikson and confessed gunman Timothy Suckow, as well as Spokane police Detective Mark Burbridge. Text records provided to the defense by prosecutors just last week showed Burbridge was alluding to plea deals with Delao just days after Doug Carlile was killed in his South Hill home.
“I never turned it over because nobody asked for it,” said Burbridge of his texts
Henrikson’s defense team said their strategy in questioning Delao would have changed substantially if they’d had access to the texts prior to trial. Delao previously testified for the prosecution linking Henrikson to the death of Carlile and Kristopher “K.C.” Clarke.
“I’m very concerned about the hiding of this evidence,” said Todd Maybrown, one of Henrikson’s attorneys.
Burbridge said he’d been out of the country on vacation when Mendoza ordered him two weeks ago to release records of all contact with Delao. When he returned last week, he sent the records to U.S. marshals right away, he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aine Ahmed said the prosecution hadn’t willfully kept the text conversation from defense attorneys. He also said the texts, and the testimony Tuesday, did not contain evidence that Delao was influenced by law enforcement before testifying.
“They’re trying to make something out of absolutely nothing,” Ahmed said of the defense, noting that the amount of prison time Delao and Burbridge testified they discussed around January 2014 was significantly less – 10 years – than what was ultimately offered by federal prosecutors prior to his testimony. Delao received a recommendation for a sentence between 14 years and 17 years, according to a plea agreement he signed in October.
Mendoza issued a subpoena Tuesday for phone companies to turn over Burbridge’s and Delao’s records to see how many times the two communicated after Delao retained an attorney in March 2014. Both said they believed the contact was limited, but could not recall under oath if they’d called each other again after Delao participated in a so-called “free talk” with authorities shortly after he secured legal representation. Delao signed a form at that meeting indicating nothing he said to law enforcement would be used against him in court.
Henrikson’s defense team said a text from Burbridge around this time, indicating the case had been transferred to federal court and could result in the death penalty for some of the defendants, may have influenced Delao’s testimony to minimize his role in the conspiracy and inflate Henrikson’s.
Text records provided by Burbridge, who said he deleted none of the information from the case from his iPhone, indicated a day later the Spokane detective was asking Delao to clarify answers he’d given during the free talk. Delao answered those questions without his attorney present.
Henrikson’s defense attorneys said they believed a subpoena would produce the needed phone records in time for them to begin their case. That could come as early as Monday, attorneys said. Maybrown said if the subpoena showed that Delao and Burbridge were speaking frequently after March 2014, they might move for a mistrial again.
The trial is scheduled to resume in Richland at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in front of 17 jurors. A panel of 18, with six alternates, was originally selected. One juror and a security guard were dismissed a week into testimony after it was reported that guard had made inappropriate statements about the reliability of a government witness.
Henrikson faces life in prison if convicted on an 11-count indictment. Prosecutors say the 36-year-old ordered Suckow to kill Clarke, a childhood friend and employee who was threatening to leave Henrikson’s trucking company on the Fort Berthold Indian reservation near Watford City, North Dakota. Henrikson then ordered Suckow to kill Carlile, who’d entered into an oil drilling venture with Henrikson that was unsuccessful.
Defense attorneys say Henrikson was not involved in either killing and accuse Delao of using Henrikson as a scapegoat to avoid a harsher prison sentence.
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