Utah judge denies killer’s motion for new trial in Park City murder
January 3, 2019
A 3rd District Court judge on Wednesday denied a motion for a new trial sought by a man convicted of murder in the 2016 shooting death of a popular Park City bartender, siding with prosecutors who argued the trial that ended with the man's conviction was fair.
A jury in October of 2017 returned a murder verdict against James Henfling, 30, in the death of Jose Fernandez. He shot Fernandez after a fistfight in an Empire Avenue condominium. The defense claimed the shooting was an act of self-defense, but the prosecutors during the trial convinced the jury Henfling intended to kill the victim and Fernandez did not pose a threat to Henfling at the moment of the shooting.
Judge Patrick Corum in March of 2018 sentenced Henfling to prison for 16 years to life on the murder conviction. The judge told Henfling he "left (Fernandez) on the floor to die" and the killer did not take responsibility for what happened. The jury also convicted Henfling on a count of felony discharge of a firearm, resulting in a sentence of five years to life in state prison. The defense sought a new trial on both of the convictions.
Henfling requested a new trial after the sentencing, basing the move on procedural grounds. The request for a new trial raised the possibility of misconduct by the prosecution, including what the defense described as prejudicial arguments made toward the end of the trial. The request claimed the "prosecutor's comments tainted the fundamental fairness of these proceedings."
It also covered the possibility of the use of an improper theory of felony murder, jury instructions regarding self-defense and what was described as the ineffective work of Henfling's attorney. The Summit County Attorney's Office opposed the request, outlining Henfling received a fair trial.
"I believe it was a just and fair ruling, because Mr. Henfling received a fair trial in 2017. His conviction is supported by persuasive and substantial evidence," Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson said about the judge's decision on Wednesday, describing it was obvious to the prosecution Corum carefully reviewed the record of the trial and the written submittals.
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The ruling keeps the conviction and sentencing intact.
Henfling's side earlier unsuccessfully attempted to convince a judge to arrest the judgment in the case, or essentially set aside the jury's verdict in a move that would have created the possibility of a retrial. The bid to set aside the verdict was based on jury instructions centered on the definitions of self-defense.
Fernandez was 37 at the time of his death. He worked at the No Name Saloon & Grill and Boneyard Saloon & Wine Dive. It was the first killing in Park City since 2003. There has been one since the death of Fernandez. Friends and family members recalled Fernandez as having a zest for life and said Henfling tore apart the family with the killing. The attorney who represented Henfling in the trial said Henfling was privately remorseful.
An attorney representing Henfling in the motion for a new trial did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.