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
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.
A dejected Gary Mitchell (center)
with defendant Linda Henning (left) and co-counsel Monica Baca.
In the distance, the courtroom's bailiff looks on.
Additional October 26,
2002 Coverage of the Henning Guilty Verdicts:
copyright 2002 M. Horner