The trial of James Henrikson, the man accused of ordering the murder of businessman Doug Carlile in his Spokane home in December 2013, will take place in Richland, a federal judge ordered Thursday.
Henrikson’s attorneys said media coverage has been “ongoing and constant” since Carlile was shot and killed and argued the publicity would make a fair trial in Spokane impossible.
U.S. District Judge Salvador Mendoza Jr. agreed Thursday over objections from prosecutors, who said the Carlile family would have difficulty attending a trial in another location.
“They want to be here in court for his trial,” said federal prosecutor Aine Ahmed.
Henrikson has been indicted on charges he agreed to pay Timothy Suckow $20,000 to kill Carlile after a business partnership in the Bakken oilfields of North Dakota went bad.
Suckow, 51, on Wednesday pleaded guilty to two criminal counts for his involvement in the shooting death and accepted a plea deal calling for a 30-year prison sentence. He is expected to testify against Henrikson at trial.
Henrikson attorney Mark Vovos said there had been more than 650 stories about the case since Carlile’s murder and estimated over a million people had read articles about the killing online. Many of those reports referred to Henrikson as the “mastermind” of the murder-for-hire scheme, he said.
Vovos cited the case of former Spokane police officer Karl Thompson, whose criminal trial in the death of Otto Zehm was moved from Spokane to Yakima due to media coverage of the case.
“The publicity was as much or greater in this case as it was in Karl Thompson’s,” he said.
Investigators also allege Henrikson ordered Suckow to kill Kristopher “K.C.” Clarke, an employee of Henrikson’s, in February 2012. Henrikson faces a total of 11 federal charges, some related to two other contract murders prosecutors say were planned but not carried out.
Two other men charged in the scheme, Todd Bates and Robby Wahrer, will stand trial with Henrikson.
A questionnaire sent out to potential jurors in Spokane found 61 out of 135 had heard some information about the case, Vovos said. Ahmed countered that only 21 people said they’d already formed an opinion, and said the court should proceed with jury selection before deciding an impartial jury would be impossible to find.
Ahmed argued that information in media reports has been factual and said statements accusing Henrikson of masterminding the murder-for-hire plot would be part of his opening arguments.
“That’s not prejudicial. The jury’s gonna hear it on the first day,” he said.
Mendoza also denied a request by federal prosecutors to hold the trial in Spokane with a Richland jury, saying it would be too difficult to keep jurors sequestered and away from their families for the duration of the trial.
Henrikson showed no emotion as Mendoza announced his decision, though attorneys for his co-defendants were visibly excited.
Mendoza also ruled Thursday on other pre-trial motions, including allowing an FBI agent to testify about cellphone billing records and allowing the prosecution to play the 911 recording of Carlile’s wife calling for help.
The trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 5 in Richland.