January 25, 2016 / 5:47 PM / 2 years ago

Trial starts for oil truck operator in North Dakota murder-for-hire case

SEATTLE (Reuters) - The trial of an oil truck operator charged with orchestrating the killings of two business rivals competing for work in North Dakota's Bakken oil patch began on Monday in Washington state.

James Henrikson admitted in a September plea agreement to an interstate murder-for-hire plot to kill Kristopher "KC" Clarke in February 2012 in North Dakota and Douglas Carlile in December 2013 in Spokane, Washington.

The trial was scheduled after a U.S. judge in eastern Washington granted Henrikson's request to withdraw his guilty plea in November. The judge ruled that Henrikson "has a fair and just reason for withdrawal" because he was not made aware of the mandatory minimum penalty of life imprisonment prior to entering his guilty plea, court documents showed.

He has now pleaded not guilty.

Jury selection began on Monday morning in Richland, in southeastern Washington state, Henrikson's lawyer, Todd Maybrown, and a U.S. District Court clerk in Spokane said.

Henrikson faces charges of murder-for-hire and conspiracy and solicitation to commit murder-for-hire in alleged plots against several people he viewed as an impediment to his enterprises, an indictment said. He also faces a charge of conspiracy to distribute heroin.

Three men who prosecutors say arranged and carried out the contract killings pleaded guilty to a host of federal charges in September and are expected to testify at Henrikson's trial, which could last four to six weeks, The Spokesman-Review newspaper reported.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington declined to comment on the trial, as did Maybrown, the attorney for Henrikson.

Reporting by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Alistair Bell, Diane Craft

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