A federal jury found a Vietnam veteran guilty Friday of first-degree murder in the death of a woman on the Lummi Indian reservation near...
A federal jury found a Vietnam veteran guilty Friday of first-degree murder in the death of a woman on the Lummi Indian reservation near Bellingham 21 years ago.
Henry Keeler Redlightning faces an automatic sentence of life in prison for the death of Rita Disangh. Redlightning confessed to FBI agents last year that he strangled her after a bonfire at Fish Point in 1987, dumping her body in a slough of the Nooksack River.
“For a long time this guy was free knowing he had done this,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Diggs. “For her sons, who have moved on with their lives, it’s not like it happened yesterday, but it gives them some closure.”
Redlightning, 57, came to the attention of authorities in the Disangh case in 2006, when his ex-stepdaughter walked into the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office and said he had talked about killing a woman and dumping the body in a river.
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Redlightning’s lawyers took issue with the way his confession was obtained. They said his failing health and post-traumatic stress disorder made him susceptible to giving a false confession, and that an FBI agent triggered his PTSD by asking him about Vietnam before talking with him about the Disangh case.
Redlightning told the FBI he sexually assaulted and strangled Disangh while giving her a ride home from the bonfire because she kept asking him about Vietnam. His ex-wife’s brother, who has since died, was in the back seat, passed out drunk, he said.
He also claimed to have raped and killed as many as 40 women during the war, but investigators had no way to verify that.
No fingerprints or DNA linked Redlightning to the Disangh case, and no witnesses remembered seeing him at the bonfire, but the details he provided matched the facts of the crime, Diggs said. The jury deliberated for about five hours before returning its verdict.
Redlightning previously was convicted and served prison time for a violent assault on a woman in an alley after leaving a Bellingham bar in 1991. His victim in that case testified at his trial for the Disangh killing, recounting the horrifying assault for jurors.
Redlightning’s lawyers did not immediately return calls seeking comment Friday.