Hen­thorn loses ap­peal

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Kirk Mitchell

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.

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