Park City killer took ‘whatever’ attitude toward victim’s popularity
March 16, 2018
James Henfling, convicted of murder in the shooting death of a popular Park City bartender, has remained incarcerated since the killing in February of 2016, allowed to make phone calls from the Summit County Jail where he has been held.
On Aug. 13, 2016, Henfling spoke to his fiancee on the phone from the jail. His fiancee on that call told Henfling the victim, Jose Fernandez, was a "pretty loved guy in Park City," according to a 3rd District Court filing submitted by the Summit County Attorney's Office as Henfling's scheduled sentencing on Monday approaches.
"The defendant's reply? A chilling 'whatever,'" according to the filing, known as a sentencing memorandum.
The authorities recorded the calls, a standard practice, and prosecutors made public small portions of the conversations as part of the memorandum. Some portions were part of the evidence presented at the trial, but the filing provides an extraordinary look at Henfling's view of the case nonetheless.
“I’ve got 23 years to escape. (His fiancee’s name), get ready, be packed up we’re going to Canada . . . it’s easier to get away once you’re in Canada rather than Mexico. Everyone goes to Mexico, no one goes to Canada,” James Henflingphone call, June 29, 2016
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Judge Patrick Corum may consider the memorandum as well as a protected pre-sentence report and statements of impact by family and friends of Fernandez as he renders a sentence. Prosecutors anticipate Fernandez's family members and friends will speak about the impact of the loss during the sentencing.
Henfling, 29, shot Fernandez in an Empire Avenue condominium after a fistfight. The victim died four days afterward. Henfling claimed he shot in self-defense, but prosecutors successfully argued he intended to kill Fernandez and that the victim did not pose a threat at the time of the Feb. 22, 2016 shooting. A jury in October found Henfling guilty of murder and felony discharge of a firearm. The murder conviction carries a mandatory sentence of 15 years to life in state prison with one year added since a dangerous weapon was used. The discharge of a firearm conviction is punishable by a prison sentence of five years to life.
Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson said prosecutors will ask the judge to render the maximum sentence and that the two prison sentences run consecutively rather than concurrently. They will also seek restitution for medical bills covering the time between the shooting and Fernandez's death. A dollar figure has not been finalized. Henfling's attorney did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.
The prosecutors said Henfling suffered a bloody nose and cuts to his lip before he shot. The filing says Fernandez was "most likely shot where he was found — cornered, unarmed, and reclined on the floor." Henfling did not attempt to help Fernandez afterward and did not call 911, the prosecutors say, describing that he "acted with a telling callousness."
The filing says Henfling or his sister, who was present at the time of the shooting, shut the curtains of a sliding glass door close to where Fernandez was located after the shooting.
The recorded phone calls placed by Henfling from the jail illustrate his mindset as the case continued. In a call on April 2, 2016, his fiancee "confronted the defendant with the fact that Jose did not die immediately after the gunshot, but four days later," the filing says.
"In response, the defendant explained this was because 'I'm a bad shot,'" the prosecutors say.
Some of the other comments recorded in the calls, as outlined by prosecutors, include:
• "In other conversations, the defendant joked about repeatedly requesting a pardon from the Governor and about (his fiancee) needing to 'start a Go Fund Me to get me out of here,'" dated June 29, 2016.
• "Nobody can understand why I'm being charged with what I'm being charged with, because it does not make sense," dated June 7, 2017.
• "That's why I said they hate me here. Because if that wasn't the case, they wouldn't be doing it. Probably because I have a Michigan ID . . . they hate out of state people," dated June 7, 2017.
• "I've got 23 years to escape. (His fiancee's name), get ready, be packed up we're going to Canada . . . it's easier to get away once you're in Canada rather than Mexico. Everyone goes to Mexico, no one goes to Canada," dated June 29, 2016.
Henfling also showed "animosity" toward the police, bemoaned the media coverage of the case and displayed an attitude toward Fernandez that was "at best cool indifference, and at worst callous contempt," the filing says.
"The defendant is wholly without remorse, a trait reasonably expected of one who acted out of the necessity of self-defense," the filing concludes.