The jury in the Linda Henning murder trial found her guilty Friday of murdering Girly Chew Hossencofft. Henning could become the first woman executed in New Mexico since the 19th century. That’s because the jury convicted her of “felony” murder and kidnapping. Those two components make her eligible for a death sentence in New Mexico, where lethal injections are used at executions.
The defendant sat nearly motionless as Chief Judge W. John Brennan read aloud the verdicts, “We find the defendant, Linda Henning, guilty of first degree murder, felony murder, as charged in the alternative in count one.” Upon hearing those words, Henning’s attorney, Gary Mitchell, lowered his head and repeatedly shook it back-and-forth as if in a state of disbelief. Moments later, Mitchell stood before the court and called the verdict “bizarre” and inconsistent.
Upon leaving the courtroom, Mitchell blasted New Mexico’s death penalty statute. He said the cards were stacked against his client the moment a jury was selected, “We lost this case because we don’t have people in this state courageous enough to demand that this type of jury selection, where we eliminate everybody unless they’re ultra-conservative enough to want to kill somebody (be done away with.)”
Lead prosecutor Paul Spiers commended the jury, particularly because jurors opted for the felony murder conviction over the open count of murder charge. “They rolled-up their shirtsleeves and factually inquired about the case and determined that the murder was committed in the course of a kidnapping, which is more factually specific.”
Spiers added that he is thinking of Girly’s family a half-a-world away in Malaysia. “Difficult to put into words,” he said.
The Diazien Dilemma
Asked if it was a mistake to put Diazien Hossencofft on the witness stand, Mitchell said he’d do it again. “I put him on there because I thought it was part of the facts of this case.”
Hossencofft is already serving a life sentence sentence for his role in orchestrating the murder. He received the sentence after a plea bargain in January. Many trial observers are struggling with the fact that Henning could be sentenced to death while Hossencofft, the self-admitted “mastermind” of the murder–escaped such a fate. There is a popular misconception that Hossencofft, in his plea deal, agreed to tell investigators where Girly’s body could be found. But Hossencofft never promised to reveal the location of the body. He did agree to reveal all he knew about the murder. When he finally gave his statement to police, he told them that he has no idea where the body is located, alleging that Bill Miller was in charge of killing Girly and disposing of the body.
He makes for colorful TV, but his track-record suggests that Hossencofft is a lousy witness. “It’s a good conclusion to reach,” admitted Mitchell. After all, Mitchell called him to the stand, then lost.
The prosecution experienced great disappointment earlier this year when it had Hossencofft testify before a Grand Jury regarding charges filed against Miller. Those charges included murder and kidnapping. The prosecution sensed momentum after receiving Hossencofft’s statement in his plea agreement. But Hossencofft reportedly went out of his way to shock and offend members of that Grand Jury. The case against Miller crumbled. He is now indicted on five counts of tampering with evidence.
Henning returns to court Tuesday when the sentencing phase of this trial begins. Mitchell is planning to have at least one expert witness testify. And, in an interview with Court TV shortly after Friday’s verdicts, he stated that will have Henning testify for the first time. Her life is on the line.
Additional October 26, 2002 Coverage of the Henning Guilty Verdicts:
Albuquerque Tribune: Guilty without a doubt: jury next to decide on death penalty for Henning Albuquerque Journal: Henning Convicted Albuquerque Tribune: Girly Chew Hossencofft: A victim who fought to stay alive