Attorneys for James Henrikson argued Tuesday that the government’s case against the North Dakota man on murder-for-hire charges is built on the lies of informants, while prosecutors said all the evidence points back to Henrikson as the lengthy trial sped to a conclusion.
Introducing three witnesses, two of whom had already testified, the defense argued after a day and a half of testimony that the federal government built its case against Henrikson on the self-serving stories of informants.
“Many of the witnesses in this case, why would you believe anything they say?” Todd Maybrown, one of Henrikson’s defense attorneys, said in closing arguments that concluded Tuesday evening.
“You wouldn’t want them walking your dog,” Maybrown’s colleague Mark Vovos said of the witnesses, many of them felons, called by prosecutors.
A 12-member jury was asked by U.S. District Court Judge Salvador Mendoza to return to the Richland courtroom Wednesday morning to begin their deliberations on charges related to the grisly deaths of Douglas Carlile and Kristopher Clarke.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aine Ahmed implored those jurors to look at all the evidence in the case, including testimony but also cellphone and business records that he said showed Henrikson to be a vindictive, dangerous criminal. Ahmed pointed to the statements of several witnesses, who testified they heard Henrikson saying he would kill Clarke after the 30-year-old showed interest in leaving Henrikson’s trucking company to work for a competitor.
“Most people would take those statements in stride,” Ahmed said. “But when Mr. Henrikson makes those comments, people end up dead. Or he gets an ‘A’ for effort, for trying.”
Maybrown argued the evidence the prosecution presented showed only that Henrikson was interested in having Timothy Suckow assault Clarke on Feb. 22, 2012, the last day Clarke was seen alive. His body has never been found.
“It’s a rough-and-tumble place,” Maybrown said of the shop on the Fort Berthold Indian reservation near Watford City, North Dakota. “But you don’t do a murder-for-hire with 30 people around.”
Suckow testified about several “vivid details” from that day, including blood spilling from Clarke’s head and sloshing around in a garbage bag his body was wrapped in, Ahmed said. Those details included a discussion about payment of $20,000 for killing Clarke as Suckow dug a grave on state park land. Half of that sum was delivered the next day in a used Cheez-It box as Suckow prepared to ride a train back to Spokane.
“This is a real killer,” Ahmed said, as jurors viewed a picture of a tattooed, muscle-bound Suckow the day after his arrest in January 2014. “This is not a TV killer.”
The defense has not disputed that Suckow bludgeoned Clarke, or that Suckow would later wait in Carlile’s backyard and shoot him dead in his kitchen. But, Maybrown said, Henrikson was the victim of “tunnel vision” by investigators and cooperating witnesses who would do anything to pin the murders on him.
“What happened Dec. 15, as horrifying as it is, was a home-invasion robbery gone wrong,” Maybrown said, noting Suckow brought zip ties to the home on Spokane’s South Hill.
Maybrown accused the prosecution of presenting “junk science” in cellphone records that mostly placed Suckow and other cooperating witnesses at the scene of the Clarke killing. One of the calls, what investigators called “an outlier,” showed Suckow in Bismarck, North Dakota, hundreds of miles away. Maybrown once more accused the government of hiding that evidence.
The defense also called Robert Delao, another man indicted in the scheme, who said he relayed messages between Henrikson and Suckow, “the centerpiece” of the government’s case. Concerns about false testimony in a Spokane County robbery should give the jury pause, Maybrown argued.
“You could only get the truth out of him with a crowbar,” Maybrown said of Delao.
Ahmed said the government’s case rested on more than Delao’s testimony. He also said it would be “absolutely natural” for Delao and Suckow to lie when they first met with investigators, because they were being questioned on suspicion of murder.
The defense had filed a motion Monday asking Mendoza to dismiss the murder-for-hire charges against Henrikson due to lack of evidence. Mendoza denied that motion before the jury reconvened Tuesday afternoon to receive more than 40 instructions and listen to closing arguments.
The trial began Jan. 25 in Richland. It was moved from Spokane because of extensive pretrial media coverage of the case, which began with Carlile’s death in his South Hill home in 2013.
Henrikson faces a potential life sentence if found guilty. In addition to the murder-for-hire crimes, he faces allegations he bought heroin and used a pill press to produce illicit drugs that he sold in North Dakota.
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