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Lawyers focus on truthfulness of witnesses as Henrikson trial begins

RICHLAND – Bespectacled and graying, Timothy Suckow drew with his finger the location where he said he fatally bludgeoned Kristopher Clarke nearly four years ago at the request of James Henrikson.

“When we were standing in the shop, that’s when I realized things were actually going to happen,” Suckow, 52, told an 18-member Central Washington jury on Friday, motioning to a picture of Henrikson’s machine shed on a computer monitor. That jury will determine the guilt or innocence of Henrikson on charges he ordered the deaths of Clarke and South Hill businessman Doug Carlile.

U.S. District Court Judge Salvador Mendoza halted testimony Friday before Suckow talked about the killing blows to Clarke, whose body has not been recovered.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Jones, in his opening statement, said Suckow “literally bashed in” Clarke’s brain with a floor jack handle.

The trial began with prosecutors playing Elberta Carlile’s whispered 911 call made from the closet of the home she shared with her late husband. She kept repeating that a man had shot her husband, and said, “If he hears me, he’ll kill me.”

Jones told the jury many prosecution witnesses “are not upstanding citizens.”

Defense attorneys Mark Vovos and Todd Maybrown will argue that those witnesses are also liars out to use the 36-year-old Henrikson as a “scapegoat” to cover up their own acts in pursuit of wealth.

Vovos said Suckow and Robert Delao, who will testify he acted as a go-between for Henrikson in soliciting several contract killings, wanted pieces of Henrikson’s lucrative oil trucking company for themselves, and Carlile’s killing was nothing more than a home invasion gone wrong. Both Suckow and Delao have pleaded guilty in the case.

Henrikson “never asked or ordered them to kill anyone,” Vovos told the jury.

Members of Clarke’s and Carlile’s families filled three rows of the federal courtroom in Richland on Friday. Jones’ description of Clarke’s death drew tears from Clarke’s grandmother, who stood up and left the courtroom a few minutes into the prosecution’s statement.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Aine Ahmed called Suckow as the first witness immediately after opening statements. Suckow, who was offered a 30-year prison sentence instead of life imprisonment for his testimony, is expected to be on the stand through the beginning of next week.

Prosecutors said they’ll use “dozens” of text messages, phone records and the testimony of multiple witnesses to prove Suckow traveled to Carlile’s South Hill home in December 2013 with intent to kill. But Vovos said handcuffs and zip ties were recovered in items Suckow brought to the home, indicating a desire only to steal and intimidate Henrikson’s business partner.

The robbery plot was concocted between Delao and Suckow, without Henrikson’s involvement, Vovos said.

If you want to find a person “who knew how to get out of trouble and set somebody else up, you couldn’t find anyone better than Delao,” Vovos said. “This is the personification of people who make a deal with the government.”

The 18-member jury was excused at noon for the weekend and will return to the courtroom Monday morning, when Suckow’s testimony will resume. Eleven men and seven women were selected for the panel, which took nearly four days of questioning to seat.

Security in the Richland courtroom was tight as Suckow described how he met Henrikson in February 2012. As Suckow spoke, with Henrikson leaning forward at the defense table and scribbling notes, a U.S. marshal sat an arm’s length away from the witness stand.

Suckow paused after several questions from Ahmed, squinting to answer behind reading glasses on occasion and apologizing from time to time.

“I’m trying to remember these things,” Suckow said. “It’s been a long time. Things I don’t want to remember.”

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