Park City killer wants murder conviction set aside
December 1, 2017
Attorneys for a man convicted of murder in the 2016 shooting death of a well-known Park City bartender want a judge to essentially set aside the jury's verdict in the case with the possibility of a retrial if the judge agrees to do so.
A jury in October convicted James Henfling, 29, in the killing of Jose Fernandez in a Park City condominium. Sentencing is scheduled Jan. 10.
Henfling's attorneys have filed paperwork asking that the judgment be arrested, a rare legal maneuver for a case tried in Summit County. Scott Williams and Care Tangaro, the attorneys representing Henfling, base the request on jury instructions.
The 3rd District Court filing claims the jury instructions "failed to accurately apprize the jury of the findings necessary to find Mr. Henfling guilty of Murder in a number of respects." It says the errors in the jury instructions centered on the definitions of self-defense and the prosecutors' "burden in disproving them beyond a reasonable doubt." The filing in part argues the jury was "erroneously and prejudicially instructed on the law and burdens surrounding" two sorts of self-defense.
The Summit County Attorney's Office opposes the Henfling side's move. A filing by County Attorney Margaret Olson argues the judge should deny the request. Henfling "invited any error in the jury instructions when he approved the instructions as given," the county attorney's filing says. Henfling's "objections to the jury instructions come too late," it says, arguing that a sentence in the jury instructions was not "snuck in . . . at the last minute." The sentence dealt with the legal theory of someone reasonably believing they are in danger and is important to a self-defense claim.
Patricia Cassell, the chief prosecutor in the Summit County Attorney's Office, said in an interview she hopes the judge makes a ruling on the Henfling side's request prior to the sentencing. The murder conviction is a first-degree felony punishable by five years to life in state prison. The county attorney has not yet crafted a sentencing recommendation.
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"We think the jury instructions were appropriate and correct," she said, adding, "There's nothing wrong with the jury instructions is our argument."
The Park Record was unable to contact an attorney representing Henfling.
A judge's instructions to the jury after the prosecution and defense have rested their cases are a critical component to a trial. The jury instructions cover a range of topics such as that whether a defendant testifies should not be considered during the deliberations and that the eventual punishment of a defendant should not be considered when deciding guilt.
The death of Fernandez was the first killing in Park City since a shooting death in 2003. Fernandez suffered a gunshot wound to the head after a fistfight led to the shooting. Henfling made the self-defense claim early, but the police and prosecutors argued he intended to kill Fernandez. Olson has said Henfling altered his account of the confrontation over the course of the investigation. She has also said ballistics evidence, blood spatters and an autopsy showed Fernandez was shot at "pretty close range."