UPDATED: Park City killer locked up as judge says victim was left to die
A 3rd District Court judge on Monday afternoon sentenced a man convicted of murder in the killing of a popular Park City bartender to a prison term of up to life, telling James Henfling he robbed the community of a valued member when he fatally shot Jose Fernandez in 2016.
Judge Patrick Corum rendered the sentence at the end of an emotional afternoon in the courtroom as friends and family members of the late Fernandez spoke about the impact of the loss. The emotions during the sentencing had been expected and seemed to build since a jury in October found Henfling guilty of murder and felony discharge of a firearm. The judge heard from Fernandez’s widow, who was in the courtroom with their daughter, who was born after the death, as well as some of his coworkers.
The judge sentenced Henfling to 16 years to life in state prison on the murder conviction and five years to life on the conviction of felony discharge of a firearm. Corum opted to allow the sentences to run concurrently rather than consecutively, denying a request by the prosecutors that the sentences run one after another. The prison sentences involve indeterminate terms under the state’s guidelines. The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole will determine when Henfling is released.
The judge also ordered Henfling to pay $50,000 in restitution for hospital bills amassed between the shooting and Fernandez’s death four days afterward.
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Corum said there were factors that weighed in favor of consecutive prison sentences, including the gravity of the offenses, but he noted the law says the sentences should run concurrently. He said he did not want to inject an error into the proceedings by rendering consecutive sentences.
“You fled and you left him on the floor to die,” the judge told Henfling as he described that the killer did not take responsibility for what happened.
Henfling, dressed in a striped Summit County Jail jumpsuit and shackled, chose not to speak when the judge offered him an opportunity.
Henfling, 29, shot Fernandez after a fistfight in an Empire Avenue condominium. Henfling’s side claimed the shooting was in self-defense, but the prosecutors convinced the jury Henfling intended to kill Fernandez and he did not pose a threat to Henfling at the moment of the Feb. 22, 2016, shooting. The police arrested Henfling at a nearby convenience store shortly after the shooting.
The courtroom on Monday was not full, but numerous members of Fernandez’s family as well as friends and coworkers were in attendance. The scene was emotional even before they entered the courtroom from the lobby. Some were sobbing while others displayed expressions that illustrated the seriousness of the day as they waited outside.
Grizel Trujillo, Fernandez’s widow, brought their daughter on Monday. Her voice broke repeatedly as she addressed the judge in Spanish through an interpreter. She told the judge about receiving the phone call after the shooting and the long days in the hospital before Fernandez died. She said she is not sure what she will tell their daughter about her father. Fernandez was 37 at the time of his death and worked at the No Name Saloon & Grill and Boneyard Saloon & Wine Dive.
Trujillo also addressed Henfling, saying she does not hate him, but she cannot forgive him. She said she wants Henfling to stop blaming Fernandez. Speaking briefly in English, Trujillo told Henfling she hopes “you forgive yourself.”
Jesse Shetler, who owns the two establishments where Fernandez worked, also provided important testimony on Monday. He recalled Fernandez’s “infectious smile” and “zest for life.” Fernandez was happy with the pregnancy, Shetler said. He told Henfling he “ripped apart” the family as he argued that the prison terms be consecutive.
“You chose hate over love,” Shetler said.
There was repeated mention of what some saw as a lack of remorse on the part of Henfling. One of the prosecutors, Patricia Cassell, told the judge it was “chilling” that Henfling showed no remorse. He fled instead of rendering aid after the shooting, Cassell noted.
“He’s completely unremorseful,” she said.
But Henfling’s lead attorney, Scott Williams, countered the victim could not have recovered from the gunshot wound. He said Henfling’s remorse could be used against him in some fashion if it is expressed. Williams said it is a “private remorse in a lot of regards.”
Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson provided a prepared statement at the request of The Park Record about the sentencing.
“Jose Fernandez was part of a tight-knit family in his employment community. Jose was about to start a family with his beloved wife Grizel. Those families are part of the larger Park City community. Jose’s loss is acutely felt, two years later, and will continue to be — most acutely by Grizel and their child,” she said.
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Beerman said he is aware of landlords offering relief of some sort, but he also acknowledged the landlords earn a living off the rents they collect.