Murder for hire

By Charlie Morasch, contributing writer

For years, James Henrikson joined the movement of oilmen, truck drivers and associated industries chasing oil buried below North Dakota prairie.

When profits appeared to dry up, Henrikson turned to another motive: blood.

Henrikson, owner of several trucking companies heavily invested in oil operations, has pleaded guilty for his role in a murder-for-hire scheme that killed his former business partner.

Henrikson pleaded guilty in mid-September to murder-for-hire and solicitation to commit murder in federal court in Spokane, Wash. Henrikson had been scheduled to face trial for the murder-for-hire charges beginning Oct. 5.

Henrikson agreed to a sentence of 40 years in prison and lifetime supervised release. In exchange, state prosecutors in Washington and North Dakota won't pursue further charges related to the case.

The guilty plea allows all parties to avoid a trial rife with complicated investment ties and more shadowy characters than a Lifetime original movie.

According to court documents, Elberta and Doug Carlile arrived home after church just before 7 p.m. on Dec. 15, 2013. After the couple entered their home and Elberta Carlile went upstairs, she heard voices in the kitchen. Elberta Carlile walked down to the kitchen and found what appeared to be a white male dressed in all black, including a facemask, pointing a large, black semiautomatic handgun at her husband.

Elberta heard Doug Carlile say, "Don't do anything - don't do anything" as she ran upstairs. When she reached the top of the stairs, she heard five or six gunshots.

Elberta later told police Henrikson had helped Doug Carlile, John Wark and Bill Curtiss acquire an oil lease on 640 acres near Watford, N.D., for $2 million. A joint venture by the four men called Kingdom Dynamics Enterprises included an investment from Henrikson, though his name was not involved officially.

Doug Carlile had been speaking with a Texas oil investor who would buy Henrikson's investment out, which made Henrikson unhappy, his widow told authorities.

Henrikson told police he didn't murder Carlile, but claimed the victim owed Henrikson $1.88 million.

According to Henrikson's arrest affidavit, Doug Carlile borrowed a gun from one of his sons and told another, "If I disappear or wake up with bullets in my back, promise me you will let everyone know that James Henrikson did it."

Skyler Carlile, the murder victim's son, said Henrikson reportedly owed money to many in the North Dakota oilfields and wasn't allowed to work on Indian lands. Skyler Carlile told police Henrikson had showed up at his office and demanded $400,000, saying if he didn't "something very bad could happen to me and my family," the affidavit says.

A former employee of Carlile's said he noticed Henrikson had written Carlile's name repeatedly on paper at Henrikson's house, leading the employee to believe he was practicing forgery.

Todd Bates and four other co-defendants also changed pleas from not guilty to guilty. The four other co-defendants received sentences between 12 and 30 years in prison.

Bates, who reportedly worked as Henrikson's "muscle," had been told a specific job would pay "the same as the last job," court documents recount one witness overhearing. The witness believed the last job referenced was Casey Clark, an operations manager under Henrikson who had been missing since February 2012. Henrikson is a suspect in Clark's disappearance. The witness, who worked for a company associated with Henrikson, quit the job when he became concerned for his personal safety and moved to Texas.

Henrikson owned several companies doing business in North Dakota's oil fields, including Blackstone; Blackstone Trucking; Blackstone Crude; Blackstone Electric; Blackstone Construction; and Blackwell and DC Energy.

Elberta Carlile issued a statement after Friday's plea deal. The widow said she was relieved the plea allowed a trial to be avoided.

"My husband always said, 'I've read the end of the book and we win!'" the statement said, according to KHQ News. "He believed that and I believe that. … Justice is being served." LL