State v. Henfling

Decision Date11 September 2020
Docket NumberNo. 20190150-CA,20190150-CA
Citation474 P.3d 994
Parties STATE of Utah, Appellee, v. James Enoch HENFLING, Appellant.
CourtUtah Court of Appeals

Ann M. Taliaferro, Salt Lake City, Attorney for Appellant

Sean D. Reyes, Salt Lake City, and John J. Nielsen, Attorneys for Appellee

Judge David N. Mortensen authored this Opinion, in which Judges Kate Appleby and Diana Hagen concurred.



¶1 James Enoch Henfling was convicted of murder, felony murder, and felony discharge of a firearm after firing a single shot from his pistol into the face of his sister's friend during a physical altercation involving the three of them. Henfling appeals his convictions. He argues that the trial court erred by not dismissing his murder charge for insufficient evidence, not dismissing his felony-discharge-of-a-firearm conviction as legally invalid, and denying his motion for a new trial because of erroneous jury instructions and prosecutorial misconduct. We affirm.


¶2 Late one evening, Henfling received a call from his sister (Sister) letting him know that she was visiting from out of state and was in Park City, Utah. During the call, Henfling thought Sister sounded both drunk and high on drugs. Worried that she might become a target for sexual assault, Henfling armed himself with a knife, a taser, and a pistol before he, his fiancée (Fiancée), and their three-year-old daughter drove from their residence in Midvale to Park City. They arrived in Park City at about 1:00 AM and Henfling met with Sister and her friend (Victim) at a parking garage.

¶3 Sister was intoxicated and Victim was "really drunk" but was "really happy, [and] nice" and invited everyone back to his condominium. Henfling followed Sister and Victim to the condominium complex and parked "farther off, down the parking lot." The group entered the condominium where Victim briefly introduced one of his roommates (Roommate), who then retired to her bedroom for the night. Victim opened a fold-out couch bed in the living room where he slept and offered to let everyone stay the night. Fiancée sat on the corner of the bed with her sleeping daughter, while Sister, Victim, and Henfling sat in the kitchen. The group talked while Henfling and Victim drank alcohol.

¶4 As the night progressed, Victim and Henfling discussed guns. Victim retrieved his pistol from an ottoman in the living room, and Henfling removed his pistol from the holster on his hip to compare firearms. No threats were made while the guns were out; Henfling and Victim were merely "talking shop about guns," and then they put away the guns.

The Murder

¶5 Later, Sister called her boyfriend, who was out of state, to let him know she had safely arrived in Utah. During their conversation, Victim took the phone from Sister and threatened her boyfriend, who—according to a social media post made earlier by Sister—had cheated on her. Victim stated that he had been in the military and would kill the boyfriend for his treatment of Sister. Henfling joined in, berating and threatening the boyfriend.

¶6 After the phone call, Sister was angry and wanted to leave. Henfling also wanted Sister to leave and go home with him, fearing that if she stayed, Victim would "take advantage of her" in her inebriated state. Victim, however, did not want Sister to leave and argued with Henfling, yelling and at one point pushing Henfling against the wall by his throat. Fiancée yelled at Victim to stop, and the quarrel ceased.

¶7 Fiancée retrieved the keys to their vehicle and informed Henfling she was going to the truck with their daughter and that "he needed to get ready so that [they] could leave." She left the condominium, followed by Sister, while Henfling remained inside with Victim. Fiancée went to the truck and Sister went to Victim's car to retrieve her belongings. Sister then returned to Victim's condominium. After some time, Henfling came to the truck and took the keys from Fiancée, stating that they weren't leaving yet, and returned to the condominium. Sister came down to sit in the truck with Fiancée and attempted to call Henfling, but her phone would not work. Sister then returned to Victim's condominium to get the keys from Henfling. Henfling and Sister "had words" over him retaining the keys and his intent to drive them home in his intoxicated state.

¶8 During the argument, Henfling became "loud and aggressive" and was rude to Sister. The noise woke Roommate who remained in the bedroom trying to get back to sleep. Sister testified that Victim interjected himself into the argument and Henfling and Victim began to fight and choke each other. Sister attempted to intervene, and Victim punched her in the side of the face. Then she tackled both men to the floor in the living room between the bed and the ottoman. Victim landed slightly reclined against the bed and began to kick or press his bare foot into Henfling's face. Sister, who was between the two, tried to further intervene by pushing them apart and punching Victim in his face. After Sister hit him, Victim looked blankly at her. Henfling removed his pistol from his locking holster,2 chambered a round, and shot Victim one time in the forehead as Victim remained reclined on the floor. Henfling later stated, "I guess I should have shot him in the foot or the hand or just in the air, but natural reaction, being a hunter ... you shoot to kill. ... So, it's what I did."

¶9 Roommate heard the gunshot and hid in her closet, unsure what had happened but thinking that perhaps Victim "took his gun and shot through the roof to try to take [the arguing] people out of the [condominium]." Roommate remained hidden for several minutes until she heard Henfling and Sister leave. After that, Roommate exited the bedroom to see what had transpired. She walked into the hallway and looked to the living room, but she stopped when she saw that Victim was lying on the floor with his feet protruding from behind the pulled-out bed and heard him "snoring"—which unbeknownst to her was actually Victim's agonal breathing as his body gasped for air. From her vantage point, Roommate did not observe Victim's head, and she did not enter the living room to investigate further, thinking that Victim was "too wasted" and had fallen asleep on the floor as he had on previous occasions. Roommate returned to her bedroom to go back to sleep.

Post-Murder Conduct

¶10 After leaving the condominium, Henfling and Sister ran to Henfling's truck. Fiancée, who had heard the gunshot and hid herself and her daughter behind a wall, saw Henfling and Sister hurry to the truck and start it. Fiancée jumped in the truck and asked Henfling what happened as he drove away. Henfling responded that he "fucked up" and "just shot someone in the face" and Victim was dead. Learning this, Fiancée told Henfling to stop the truck and let her out. She went to a nearby convenience store with her daughter. Sister also left the truck and attempted to go to another friend's home but she failed to find it and eventually went to the same store as Fiancée.

¶11 When Fiancée entered the store, the store clerk noticed she was distraught and called 911. Officers soon arrived, and Fiancée informed them of the shooting. Sister, however, acted as though she were an uninterested party who was merely in the store to charge her cell phone. Police learned from Fiancée that Sister knew Victim. When police spoke to Sister, she confirmed that she knew Victim and offered to help police find his condominium. But she did not mention that there had been a shooting or that she had witnessed it. An officer accompanied Sister in circles around the area for several minutes without finding the condominium where Victim was shot. Sister eventually called another friend for help, and the officer left Sister at that friend's home. Sister later apologized for lying to the officer about not knowing the location of Victim's condominium.

¶12 In the meantime, Henfling drove around Park City and called his family. First, he called his brother and then his father, recounting some version of the night's occurrences and claiming that he had a broken jaw and several teeth missing as a result of the fight with Victim. Henfling's father called police dispatch to inform them that Henfling shot someone. The police dispatcher then called Henfling and directed him to the officers waiting at the convenience store where he had left Fiancée. Henfling arrived at the store nearly one hour after shooting Victim.

Henfling's Accounts

¶13 The officers at the convenience store detained Henfling. He immediately told the officers that he "didn't mean to shoot" and that "[he] did self-defense" because Victim "was beating [him] with a stick." When asked if he needed medical assistance, Henfling stated that his face hurt but he did not "consider it an emergency." After being read a Miranda warning, Henfling agreed to speak to the officers and told them, "I selfdefensed myself ... because he was beating me with a stick. And I shot him in the face. He's dead." Henfling claimed the fight started because Victim was trying to have sex with Sister. He recounted that he and Victim punched each other, and then Victim beat Henfling's face with a stick. Henfling then asserted when he was nearly unconscious, he crawled to his truck, pulled out his pistol, and shot Victim while they were in the parking lot by the truck.

¶14 Police found Victim in his condominium on his back in a pool of blood. He was still alive and breathing but unconscious. However, Victim's wound was not survivable and he died after a few days.

¶15 At the police station later on the morning of the shooting, Henfling claimed he and Victim were wrestling and he had Victim in a chokehold but Victim hit him with "some type of metal pipe or pole." He again asserted that he feared he was losing consciousness and "jolted to his truck," took out the pistol, and shot Victim in the parking lot.

¶16 The next day, Henfling asserted...

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4 cases
  • State v. Holsomback
    • United States
    • Utah Court of Appeals
    • June 9, 2022 the same whether under the claim of ineffective assistance or plain error."); see also State v. Henfling , 2020 UT App 129, ¶ 30 n.7, 474 P.3d 994 ("When a defendant raises issues of plain error and ineffective assistance of counsel, a common standard of prejudice applies because plain e......
  • State v. Wall
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    • Utah Court of Appeals
    • December 17, 2020
    ...the guy that got beat up. They're supposed to look like the guy that didn't get beat up." See State v. Henfling , 2020 UT App 129, ¶ 87, 474 P.3d 994 ("Attorneys often use parlance to keep their comments succinct and to avoid detracting from the point they are making, especially during clos......
  • P.H. v. C.S. (In re B.H.)
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    • Utah Supreme Court
    • September 16, 2020
    ... ... The court of appeals rejected both arguments. But it set aside the adoption decree because it did not state that the requirements of the ICPC had been complied with, as required by the Adoption Act. 1 Accordingly, the court of appeals remanded to the ... ...
  • State v. Cabututan
    • United States
    • Utah Court of Appeals
    • March 31, 2022
    ...a jury could not "find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant committed the crime," see State v. Henfling , 2020 UT App 129, ¶ 28, 474 P.3d 994 (cleaned up), or that perfect self-defense did not apply. But this is something Cabututan cannot do because his own statements provided the......

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