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Arson trial jury was split 10-2 for acquital; Henline seeking release from detention

The jury in the Dwight Henline trial in Federal District Court in Seattle last month could not reach a verdict and a mistrial was declared. According to court documents, the jury was split 10-2 in favor of acquital. Henline was charged with four counts of arson, being suspected of setting the fire that destroyed three historic buildings housing more than six businesses in Friday Harbor on April 6, 2022.

Aerial photo of destroyed buildings by Chris Teren

He has been in detention for 18 months since May 4, 2022. The mistrial was declared on November 16. On November 22, 2023 his attorneys filed a motion to reopen the hearing on his detention. 

The Bail Reform Act mandates the release of a person facing trial unless “no condition or combination of conditions…will reasonably assure the appearance of the person as required and the safety of any other person and the community.” 18 U.S.C. §3142(f).

Henline's attorneys wrote: As the Court is well aware, it is directed to order pretrial release subject to the least restrictive conditions that can reasonably assure the accused’s return to court and the safety of the community. In this case, electronic monitoring and supervision by the Department of Probation would be enough to reasonably assure the court that Mr. Henline meets the criteria for release.

Henline has a residence and employment lined up if he is released, according to his attorneys. 

The motion states: 

A 10-2 split in favor of acquittal, coupled with the specific doubts articulated by the jurors to the government and defense, strongly indicates that the jury considered the evidence to be of insufficient value to support a conviction. A number of specific evidentiary concerns were articulated, suggesting that it would be challenging for the government to cure them all in any subsequent trial.

This information supports the argument that Mr. Henline has little motivation to attempt to evade the court’s jurisdiction or to fail to return to court. It also demonstrates that the evidence proffered by the government in this case was insufficient to convince a majority of the jurors that Mr. Henline has committed this dangerous act.

Mr. Henline asks this Court to consider the jury’s assessment when it considers whether there are measures that could reasonably assure the court of community safety if he were released.

III. Mr. Henline has been detained for 18 months and his next trial date is uncertain. Mr. Henline has been detained since May 4, 2022. During that time, he has suffered from the inadequate health care and nutrition at the Federal Detention Center. His next trial date is uncertain and could be many months away.

The jury heard testimony from over 45 witnesses, perhaps half of whom came from Friday Harbor to testify. Many were civilians. They also heard from a number of experts, including a defense expert. Some government witnesses came from other states. Scheduling a retrial could be both challenging and time-consuming.

The Motion Hearing reset for December 11, 2023 at 10:30 AM in Courtroom 12B before Hon. Brian A Tsuchida. 

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