Henk gets life sentence

2005-03-04T18:00:00Z Henk gets life sentenceLEAH THORSEN / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com
March 04, 2005 6:00 pm  • 

PAPILLION — He didn't want to give the murderer another chance to grandstand. So when Cass County Attorney Nathan Cox addressed the judge on Friday, he asked that the proceedings move quickly.

They did. The 10-minute hearing ended with Sarpy County District Court Judge William Zastera sentencing Ivan Henk to life in prison without parole for murdering his 4-year-old son, Brendan Gonzalez.

The shackled Henk said little as his sentence was handed down.

When he walked into the courtroom, he looked at Brendan's mother, Rebecca Gonzalez, and said he'd never see her again.

"Thank God," she shot back.

Later in the hearing, the judge offered Henk a chance to speak.

"No, thanks," Henk replied, mumbling that he was ready to go to prison.

Brendan,  who last was seen with Henk, vanished Jan. 6, 2003, from Plattsmouth.

That June, Henk led police to a Bellevue apartment trash bin where he said he had dumped Brendan's body. DNA tests performed on dried blood found in the bin showed the blood was Brendan's.

That bin was emptied into the Sarpy County landfill.

Searchers spent seven weeks combing the landfill in the hopes of finding Brendan's remains but never found the boy's body.

As part of an agreement hashed out last month, Henk pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in exchange for prosecutors agreeing not to pursue the death penalty.

"I thought I was going to feel much better," Gonzalez said after Friday's sentencing.

Nothing will be better until Brendan's remains are out of the landfill, she said.

"That truly would be the end," agreed Plattsmouth Police Chief Brian Paulsen, who also attended the sentencing.

Paulsen said he's certain Henk decapitated Brendan.

But he still has many questions for Henk and plans to write him in prison to ask for a meeting.

Most of all, Paulsen said, he wants to know how Henk could have killed a 4-year-old child.

Henk's attorney, Jerry Soucie, on Friday offered some explanation for his client's actions.

Henk was abused as a child, the attorney said. His mother died when he was 10, and his father was a paranoid schizophrenic, Soucie said.

These factors would have been used as a defense had the case gone to trial, he said.

Soucie has 30 days to appeal the sentence but said he did not know if he would file such an appeal.

Henk's mental condition has long been in question.

In April 2003, he shouted in a crowded courtroom that he'd killed Brendan because the boy was the Antichrist and had "666" tattooed on his forehead.

According to court documents, Henk believed his son had the power to sap his strength and make demons circle his bedroom.

Henk also believed he'd been subjected to "weird injections" as a small child, the documents stated.

Gonzalez said she didn't buy any of that — lots of people have rough childhoods and never kill their children. 

She said Henk was calculating and manipulative but certainly not crazy.

And now, she said, it's time to look forward.

Later this month, she'll graduate with a 4.0 grade-point average from the ITT Technical Institute in Omaha with an associate's degree in applied science in electronics.

And she'll continue her fight to begin another landfill search, though authorities have said another such search is unlikely.

But she's undeterred and said she plans to mount a nationwide campaign to drum up support to keep searching for her son's body.

Said Gonzalez:  "I owe it to Brendan."

Reach Leah Thorsen at 473-7246 or lthorsen@journalstar.com.

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