In its first chance to attack the case presented by federal prosecutors, James Henrikson’s defense team questioned the credibility of a key witness and offered a conflicting account of one of the alleged murder-for-hire deaths.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Aine Ahmed and Scott Jones rested their case Monday morning after nearly four weeks of testimony from dozens of witnesses implicating Henrikson in the deaths of Kristopher “K.C.” Clarke and Doug Carlile. The defense team immediately sought to discredit two of those witnesses, Timothy Suckow and Robert Delao, in offering their case to the jury.
Jason Fox, a Scottsdale, Arizona, resident and associate of Henrikson’s business partner, Ryan Olness, testified he’d been told by Olness that a hired killer from “Chicago or New York” flew to North Dakota and landed a single killing blow on Clarke, then Olness cleaned the machine shop where Clarke was killed.
Fox’s testimony differed significantly from that of Suckow, the Spokane Valley man who testified earlier this month that he took a train to North Dakota in February 2012, then struck Clarke three or four times until Clarke’s head “went soft” and cleaned the floor himself. Suckow also said only he, Henrikson and Clarke were present when Clarke was killed.
Fox, who has pleaded guilty to federal charges of fraud and mislabeling drugs, said he and Olness traveled to a country music festival in Arizona together in the spring of 2012 when the topic of Clarke’s killing came up.
In a conversation lasting less than five minutes, Fox said, Olness recounted watching Clarke’s murder in Henrikson’s machine shop at the hands of the East Coast hit man. But Fox later admitted to using marijuana and cocaine around the time the story was relayed to him by Olness.
The prosecution doesn’t dispute that Olness was present at the machine shop Feb. 22, 2012, when the supposed murder of Clarke took place, but that he arrived after the killing had taken place.
Clarke’s body has not been found. Suckow and another witness, George Dennis, said they drove with Henrikson to state park land and buried him. Fox testified Monday that Olness told him Clarke was buried in an oil field.
The defense team argues that Suckow and Robert Delao, who testified he acted as a go-between for Suckow and Henrikson, invented their client’s involvement in the murders to avoid harsher punishment for themselves. Delao was called to the stand once more Monday afternoon to answer the defense’s questions about his untruthful testimony in a 2007 robbery case and whether he also was lying about the details surrounding the Carlile killing.
Defense attorney Todd Maybrown asked Delao about a photo of Carlile in Watford City, North Dakota, that was discovered on his cellphone. Delao testified earlier that Henrikson sent him the photo to pass along to Suckow in preparation for the Spokane killing.
But phone records showed Delao, not Henrikson, took the photo in September 2013, a few months before Carlile was killed, Maybrown argued.
“I had honestly forgot about that,” Delao said on the stand. “That was inaccurate. I apologize.”
Ahmed said Delao was not prosecuted federally on a robbery charge in the 2007 case because he could not be identified by the victim, while another man, Jack Hewson, was. Hewson received a 24-year prison sentence that was recently vacated by U.S. District Court Judge Salvador Mendoza, who is also presiding over the Henrikson trial, based on Delao’s false testimony about how much time was taken off his sentence after testifying against Hewson.
A shackled Henrikson shuffled to the podium after the jury was excused Monday and told Mendoza he will not testify in his defense.
Maybrown and his colleague, Mark Vovos, have filed a motion for Mendoza to acquit Henrikson of the murder-for-hire charges, which carry a potential life sentence. Defense attorneys say the prosecution didn’t present enough evidence to show that Henrikson intended to have Clarke and Carlile killed, and that there was no contract in place as to how much he would pay Suckow.
Mendoza told both sides to be prepared to present closing arguments Tuesday.
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