DENVER (AP) – Relatives of a woman whose husband was convicted of pushing her to her death off a cliff in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park hope the guilty verdict also brings justice for the man’s first wife, whom prosecutors say he killed in what also appeared to be a freak accident nearly 20 years earlier.
It took a federal jury about 10 hours to find Harold Henthorn, 59, guilty of first-degree murder in the death of his second wife, Toni Henthorn, a successful ophthalmologist from Jackson, Mississippi.
She died after plummeting about 130 feet off a cliff in a remote, rocky area where the couple had been hiking on Sept. 29, 2012, their 12th wedding anniversary.
But much of the two-week trial focused on the death of Henthorn’s first wife, Sandra Lynn Henthorn, who was crushed when a car slipped off a jack while they were changing a flat tire in 1995 – several months after their 12th wedding anniversary.
Henthorn has not been charged in that case, which was initially closed after just a week. But police reopened the investigation after his second wife’s death.
Prosecutors said the cases were eerily similar. Both happened in secluded areas where Henthorn was the only witness. And prosecutors argued that in each case, Henthorn sought to benefit from his wife’s life insurance policies. They showed jurors evidence suggesting that Henthorn intentionally pushed the car onto his wife and shooed away passersby who tried to help.
Sandra Lynn Henthorn’s relatives said they hope the trial renews investigators’ attention to her case. A spokeswoman for the Douglas County Sheriff Office, which is handling the investigation, did not immediately return calls inquiring about the status of the probe.
Defense attorney Craig Truman argued both deaths were tragic accidents and painted Henthorn as a mournful husband.
Toni Henthorn’s brother, Barry Bertolet, said he was relieved because the verdict means Henthorn can’t harm again. Henthorn, who shook his head in disbelief when the jury was polled, faces a mandatory life prison term when he is sentenced on Dec. 8.
“We are overjoyed with the verdict and relieved this won’t happen to any other lady,” he said. “We don’t have to worry anymore.”
Toni Henthorn’s family will move to adopt the couple’s 10-year-old daughter, relatives said.
Prosecutors argued Henthorn sought to collect on Toni Henthorn’s $4.7 million in life insurance policies, which she didn’t know existed. They seized on Henthorn’s inconsistent accounts of the fatal fall and said the evidence did not match his shifting stories.
Henthorn scouted the remote area of the popular park 75 miles north of Denver nine times before bringing his wife with him. A coroner said he could not determine whether she fell or was pushed, but he said he found no evidence that Harold Henthorn actually performed CPR on his wife, despite what he told dispatchers.
And park rangers said Henthorn could not explain why he had a park map with an “X” drawn at the spot where his wife fell.
Two jurors told The Associated Press that though some of the evidence was circumstantial, they were overwhelmingly convinced of Henthorn’s guilt. Only one juror needed more time to analyze the evidence before making her decision, they said.
Juror Kim Thiessen said it was the scope of the evidence, rather than just one piece, that secured her guilty verdict.
“Some of it was circumstantial, but we were instructed to use our common sense,” she said.
After the jury was dismissed, applause erupted in the courtroom. A female juror stepped out of the box and hugged Toni Henthorn’s mother, Yvonne Bertolet.
“That was very meaningful,” Bertolet said. “Believe it or not I forgive him (Henthorn) for doing it. I feel for him and his family.”
– By Sadie Gurman, AP Writer
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