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October 25, 2014

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Fatal shooting in desert nets 18 years for ‘horrible mistake’

An ex-felon was sentenced Monday to a minimum of 18 years in prison for the murder of a 38-year-old man found dead in 2004 in the desert near the Nevada-California line.

John Bernard Hemmers, 46, pleaded guilty in February to a reduced charge of second-degree murder in the death of Anthony Wayne Henton.

Hemmers, who was arrested in 2005 in Arizona, was facing the possibility of the death penalty had the case gone to trial.

Henton’s body was found Nov. 11, 2004, near milepost 1 off Needles Highway south of Laughlin. The location was an unmarked dirt road known locally as Mojave Trail Road.

He died from a gunshot wound to the back of his head.

In court Monday, Hemmers, wearing a blue Clark County Detention Center uniform and with two braided ponytails nearly reaching to the shackles around his waist, apologized to his family and to Henton’s family.

“I apologize for what I did – and I did do what they say I did. I was drunk and I made a horrible mistake,” he said. “I get sick every time I think about what happened that night … I was a monster and I did an ugly thing and I can’t take it back.

“If I could take it back, I would take back. But I can’t, and I’m so sorry for that. I’m really, really sorry.”

Following the agreed-upon negotiations, District Court Judge Donald Mosley sentenced Hemmers to a maximum term of 25 years for second-degree murder with parole eligibility after 10 years. A charge of robbery with a deadly weapon that carries four to 10 years is to run consecutively to the murder charge.

An additional four- to 10-year term was added for the deadly weapon enhancement.

Prosecutor Giancarlo Pesci told the judge that while Hemmers was incarcerated awaiting trial for Henton’s murder, he attacked another inmate at the Clark County Detention Center and was eventually convicted of felony battery on a prisoner.

“This is an individual who’s shown out of custody and in custody that he’s a danger. This victim was shot in the back of the head — he was executed,” Pesci said.

He has additional felony convictions for burglary in other cases, Pesci said. Court documents indicate Hemmers also has a history of substance abuse.

Henton’s mother addressed the court Monday before the judge issued his sentence. She said when she received the call from the coroner’s office to identify her son, it was a “life-shattering blow.”

Her husband had died unexpectedly two months earlier, she said tearfully.

“(My son) had so much to live for and so much to give. He did not deserve to die at the hands of John Hemmers,” she said.

Henton’s sister also addressed the court and promised Hemmers she would appear at any parole hearings to argue against his release.

Henton and Hemmers’ sister were in a dating relationship, grand jury testimony indicated. The day before Henton’s body was found, he gave Hemmers and Hemmers’ sister a ride in his white Ford pickup truck from Barstow, Calif., to their mother’s home near Needles, Calif. After Hemmers’ sister was dropped off, Henton agreed to give Hemmers a ride somewhere else, court records show.

Henton’s body was found the next day.

Hemmers was developed as a suspect but eluded authorities for several months before eventually being taken into custody in July 2005 in Somerton, Ariz. The case had been featured on “America’s Most Wanted.”

Henton’s truck was found in December 2004 by Border Patrol agents investigating a load of marijuana smuggled across the border into Pima County, Ariz.

Shortly after his arrest, he told a prison guard he had been in Cuervas, Mexico, for about eight months because he was wanted on a murder charge in Nevada, court records show.

Hemmers’ attorneys Gabriel Grasso and Monti Levy said the case had a number of issues that led to the negotiation.

Like Hemmers, many of the witnesses were members of the Fort Mojave tribe, Levy said, and they declined to participate in the court proceedings.

“It’s hard enough to get witnesses from out-of-state, but when you’re talking about a sovereign nation, it can be very hard to get them into court,” Levy said.

“This is the way the system works. We negotiated a compromise. And the compromise was an 18- to 45-year sentence,” Grasso said.

Pesci said after the hearing that the negotiations in the case were appropriate given its circumstances.

“Based on the facts and circumstances in this case, we thought that this was a good negotiation and hopefully to some extent, the family can kind of start to move forward,” he said.

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