Henthorn loses appeal
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the conviction of a Colorado man who shoved his wife off a cliff to her death at Rocky Mountain National Park on their 12th wedding anniversary as part of an insurance scam.
Harold Henthorn was convicted and sentenced to life in a federal prison in late 2015 in the murder of his wife, Toni Bertolet Henthorn. He had argued in his appeal that the judge should not have allowed evidence in the death of his first wife, Sandra “Lynn” Henthorn.
“This case presents us with the difficult issue of whether a district court presiding over a mur- der trial abused its discretion in admitting evidence of prior, similar incidents, including whether the defendant killed his second wife in circumstances similar to those that led to the death of his first wife,” said the 10th Circuit decision, which was issued Wednesday.
But the Denver-based appeals court determined that U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson properly admitted evidence at trial of the death of Sandra Henthorn in what prosecutors called a staged accident.
“…The probative value of the evidence was not substantially outweighed by its potential for unfair prejudice,” the 10th Circuit Court ruled.
Henthorn was convicted of killing Toni, who plunged 128 feet off a cliff during a hike to celebrate their anniversary in September 2012. A map with an X at the location where Toni Henthorn was killed was presented as evidence, as were details about the $4.7 million in life insurance policies he took out on his wife.
Evidence was introduced at the trial to suggest that Henthorn killed Sandra Henthorn in a staged accident in May 1995 beside Colorado 67, about 8K miles west of Sedalia. Just as in the death of Toni, Henthorn had collected large insurance claims on his first wife as well.
The appeals’ judges agreed with Jackson that prior incidents in which Henthorn’s wives were killed or injured were “extraordinarily similar to the charged offense.”
For example, the circumstances in both Toni’s and Sandra’s deaths were suspicious, including his decision to immediately cremate the bodies of both women. In 1995, Henthorn stopped to change a tire shortly before Sandra Henthorn was crushed as the Jeep fell on her, but the front passenger tire was only low, not flat. Other tires were just as low. He then yelled at Good Samaritans who wanted to help to stand back.
“…The prior incidents make it more likely that (Toni’s murder) was the product of design, rather than an accident,” the 10th Circuit determined.
The appeals court also noted that Toni Henthorn suffered numerous injuries from the fall off the cliff — brain hemorrhaging, a fractured neck, blunt trauma to the chest, abdomen and pelvis — but there were no signs typically associated with CPR including anterior rib fractures. Henthorn had said he tried to revive his wife.
“Toni’s lipstick was not even smeared from the alleged mouth-to-mouth resuscitation,” the decision says.
Henthorn’s dishonesty was so firmly cemented that his own attorney virtually apologized to the jury in closing arguments that his client “can’t tell the same story twice.”
Harold Henthorn was convicted of killing his wife in 2015. She plunged 128 feet off a cliff.