The key witness tying murder-for-hire suspect James Henrikson to the killing of South Hill businessman Doug Carlile provided false testimony in an unrelated robbery case that sent another man to prison for 24 years.
The same federal judge hearing Henrikson’s case also ruled this week that witness Robert Delao, 41, was untruthful in his testimony five years ago against Jack M. Hewson Jr.
At the time, Delao said on the stand that his testimony against Hewson would only shave a few years off his potential prison sentence. In fact, Delao served just three years on a charge he illegally possessed ammunition during a Nov. 21, 2007, home invasion robbery. Delao had faced a 24-year potential prison sentence.
That 21-year discrepancy led U.S. Magistrate Judge John T. Rodgers to write: “The Court determines Mr. Delao’s testimony was not true.”
Rodgers’ order was signed Dec. 18, 2015, a little more than a month before Henrikson’s trial began in Richland. That order was reinforced Wednesday by U.S. District Court Judge Salvador Mendoza, who signed a document indicating he agreed with Rodgers that Delao had provided false testimony, and Hewson should get a new trial.
Instead of being tried in state court on the same charges as Hewson and other co-conspirators, Delao was indicted in federal court on the ammunition possession charge. That case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Aine Ahmed, who represents the government in its case against Henrikson.
Delao served his three years in prison and was released in July 2011. He began talking to Timothy Suckow, who has admitted to killing Carlile, and eventually traveled to North Dakota to work for Henrikson, according to his lengthy testimony earlier this month in the murder-for-hire case. Prosecutors used text messages and Delao’s sworn testimony to tie Suckow to Henrikson in the weeks leading to Carlile’s death in his South Hill home in December 2013.
Defense attorneys for Henrikson have called Delao and Suckow liars who invented their client’s involvement to serve as a “scapegoat” for their own criminal behavior. Suckow has also admitted to bludgeoning Kristopher “K.C.” Clarke to death in North Dakota in February 2012.
Hewson appealed his guilty verdict. Court records show Hewson had an alibi for the night of the robbery: A woman said she had gone to bed with him at 10 p.m., well before the armed robbery. But her story did not sway the jury that heard the case in May 2011.
Hewson’s trial attorneys fought to introduce to that jury the full length of Delao’s potential prison sentence if he didn’t testify against Hewson, according to court records. But the judge in that case, Spokane Superior Court Judge Linda G. Tompkins, ruled that discussion of potential firearm enhancements could confuse the jury and lead to prejudice against Hewson. Tompkins denied Hewson’s request.
Hewson is serving his 288-month sentence at Airway Heights Corrections Center. He is represented by Jeffry Finer, a Spokane-based civil rights attorney. Finer had petitioned state Courts of Appeal, including the Washington Supreme Court, to revisit Hewson’s case, in light of Delao’s false testimony. He was unsuccessful until putting the issue before Rodgers in May, just as Delao, Suckow and others offered testimony to federal investigators against Henrikson.
Finer said he attempted to contact Henrikson’s defense team as soon as he learned Delao was involved in the alleged murder-for-hire scheme.
“I recollect that when I saw Delao’s name in the newspaper, that I reached out to someone on the defense team,” Finer said Thursday. “I don’t recall who.”
Todd Maybrown and Mark Vovos, the attorneys representing Henrikson, have not mentioned the 2011 testimony specifically in their questioning of Delao. They have not yet presented their case in a trial that is nearing the end of its fourth week.
A spokesman with the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Eastern Washington declined comment Thursday about Delao’s reliability as a witness, citing Henrikson’s ongoing trial.
Delao was the subject of a potential mistrial motion earlier this week, when it was revealed he’d texted with Spokane police Detective Mark Burbridge about a potential deal in the case for his testimony. Mendoza ruled the prosecution should have disclosed those texts sooner, but the defense team would have time to question Delao and Burbridge about them in front of the jury in Henrikson’s case.
The prosecution plans to rest its case Friday.
State prosecutors will have 90 days to determine if they want to retry Hewson on the robbery charges. Finer said he would ask that his client be released on bail.
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