News and Press Releases


March 23, 2009

HENRY KEELER REDLIGHTNING, 60, of Bellingham, Washington, was sentenced today to life in prison for his September 26, 2008, conviction in U.S. District Court in Seattle, of Murder in the First Degree. The jury deliberated about five hours following a two week trial before returning the guilty verdict. Judge James L. Robart imposed the mandatory sentence calling the murder a “brutal crime.”

According to testimony at trial and records in the case, the naked body of Rita Disanjh was found in a slough on the Lummi Indian Reservation on August 9, 1987. Disanjh had been strangled. The crime went unsolved for twenty years until October 2, 2007, when REDLIGHTNING, an enrolled member of the Lummi Inidan Tribe, confessed to the crime. REDLIGHTNING knew key details about the crime that had not been publicized in the years since the murder. REDLIGHTNING said he strangled Disanjh after giving her a ride from a beach party on the Lummi Reservation. REDLIGHTNING claimed he had become angry after Disanjh persistently asked him about his service in the Vietnam war.

At trial prosecutors introduced testimony of a strikingly similar attack in 1990, in which the victim survived. REDLIGHTNING served three years in prison for that rape and assault. Defense attorneys claimed that REDLIGHTNING had been coerced to confess, by interviewers who had first asked him about his Vietnam experience. The jury did not believe that argument, finding REDLIGHTNING acted with premeditation to sexual assault and murder of Rita Disanjh.

The case was investigated by the FBI, the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office and Bellingham Police Department.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys William H. Redkey Jr., and Matthew Diggs.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.

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