Man Guilty of Murder for Shoving His Wife Off a Cliff for Insurance Money
| |One juror stood and gave his guilty verdict. Another hugged the mother of the victim as the dramatic final scenes played in a trial in which Harold Henthorn was convicted of murder for shoving his wife from a precipice at Rocky Mountain National Park.
Henthorn, 59, was convicted of one count of first-degree murder in the 2012 death of his second wife, Dr. Toni Henthorn.
When the verdict was announced, Toni Henthorn's family members and friends cried out and sobbed. Harold Henthorn shook his head back and forth. He spoke with his attorney Craig Truman and was handcuffed.
As Henthorn was led out of the courtroom, family members of Toni Henthorn and several friends of the family shouted, "Bye, Harold!" and cheered loudly.
Yvonne Bertolet, Toni Henthorn's mother, said getting the hug from a female juror "was very meaningful to me."
Jury members said the pattern was what drove them to a guilty verdict.
"It didn't meet the common-sense barometer," said juror Peter Christofolo.
"He was very cold, very calculated," another juror, Jerry Taboada, said. "He didn't show anything. A person who loses their wife to something like that, you're going to break down sometime. He never did."
Truman declined to comment about the case, other than to say that it is likely Henthorn will appeal the verdict.
Barry Bertolet, Toni Henthorn's brother, said he was ecstatic. "My heart is still pounding. I'm very excited by the verdict."
Tammi Abbruscato, a co-worker of Toni Henthorn, beamed following the decision. "We can rest knowing justice is served."
Henthorn faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole when Judge R. Brooke Jackson sentences him Dec. 8. He also has been named a suspect in the killing of his first wife, Sandra "Lynn" Henthorn, in 1995.
During closing arguments on Friday, federal prosecutor Valeria Spencer pointed out that in each case, Henthorn's wives died in remote locations where he was the only witness.
Spencer noted that Henthorn had sent messages to relatives saying "my bride is gone," quickly cremated both wives, spread their ashes on Red Mountain, and collected enormous life insurance policies upon their deaths. The deaths were "eerily, creepily" similar, Spencer said.
Evidence was introduced at the trial to suggest that Henthorn killed his first wife in a staged accident in May 1995 beside Colorado 67, about 8½ miles west of Sedalia.
In his trial, he was accused of intentionally killing Toni Henthorn, who plunged 128 feet off a cliff during a hike to celebrate the couple's 12th anniversary in September 2012.
Witness after witness came to the stand and recounted Harold Hen thorn's numerous different versions of how she fell.
A map with an "X marks the spot" 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, who was an eye doctor.
Harold Henthorn's dishonesty was so firmly cemented that Truman virtually apologized to the jury in closing arguments that his client "can't tell the same story twice," but he added that none of that proves Henthorn killed either of his wives.
" Where is the evidence that she was pushed off a cliff?" said Truman, adding that there is none.
But the jurors were still convinced of his guilt.
Robert Bertolet, Toni Henthorn's father, said that shortly after his daughter was killed, the family rallied around Hayley, the 10-year-old daughter of Harold and Toni Henthorn.
"We had to save Hayley from Harold. That's what kept us alive," Robert Bertolet said.
The most compelling moment in the trial for Yvonne Bertolet was when prosecutor Suneeta Hazra told jurors during closing arguments that the last touch from Toni's husband was not in love but with a push.
"That was devastating to me," she said. And yet, Yvonne Bertolet added, "Believe it or not, I forgive him."
After two weeks of stunning revelations during the Harold Henthorn murder trial, Grace Rishell couldn't help but wonder how she had dodged a violent death in a remote place herself.
Rishell said Tuesday that she feels fortunate to be alive. With just a little imagination she could see a scenario in which she could have become the wife-killer's third victim.
"I don't know why I'm alive and Lynn and Toni are not," said Rishell, referring to Henthorn's first two wives. Henthorn was convicted Monday of killing his second wife, Toni Henthorn, in 2012 and is under investigation for killing his first wife, Sandra "Lynn" Henthorn, in 1995.
Henthorn faces a mandatory life prison term without parole.
Although Rishell was never married to Henthorn, it didn't stop him from taking out a $250,000 life insurance policy in her name.
In retrospect, she believes that Henthorn groomed her for murder and had even been searching for a remote location to do the deed.
Rishell met Henthorn in the early 1980s. She married the brother of Henthorn's first wife, Sandra "Lynn" Henthorn. After Lynn died in a fluke car accident near Sedalia in May 1995, Henthorn remained close to the family. He continued to attend family vacations and celebrated holidays with them.
Henthorn was helpful whenever he could be, particularly after she divorced her husband and was working three jobs to care for her four daughters.
In 2009, he coaxed Rishell into taking out a life insurance policy that named her daughters as beneficiaries.
Though Rishell told insurers in 2010 that she no longer wished to have the policy, she later learned that Henthorn had forged her signature on insurance documents.
He paid for the policy, which was switched to make him the beneficiary, for two years.
Rishell had come to know Toni Henthorn closely and considered her a close friend.
In August 2012, Harold and Toni Henthorn planned a trip to Texas to visit Rishell and her daughters. But Toni was unable to go.
Henthorn flew to Texas anyway with his 7-year-old daughter and spent the vacation going to restaurants and outings with Rishell and her daughters. He was generous, paying for everything. At one point, he rented a power boat and they spent a day out on a lake.
"I believe he was scoping the coves of the lake, looking for those remote areas," Rishell said Tuesday.
About a month later, Henthorn e-mailed Rishell numerous photographs from the boating trip. The e-mails were sent in the wee hours of the morning on Sept. 29, 2012.
Later that day, Rishell received another e-mail from Henthorn.
"My bride is gone."
Henthorn had shoved his wife off a cliff at Rocky Mountain National Park and she had fallen 128-feet to her death during a 12th anniversary hike.
The message was haunting because it was identical to what Henthorn had written in an e-mail on May 7, 1995, when his first wife died.
"It was deja vu," Rishell said.
Within a week, Henthorn did something else he had also done 17 years earlier. He had Toni Henthorn's remains cremated, just as he did in 1995 with his first wife, Lynn. He also hiked up Red Mountain and spread Toni's ashes, just as he did in 1995 with Lynn's remains.
After Toni Henthorn's death Rishell learned Henthorn had forged her signature on her life insurance policy, making him the beneficiary.
"It's creepy, scary, ugly," Rishell said. "You feel used. You feel contaminated."
During Henthorn's trial, several women who had dated Henthorn attended the proceedings, Rishell said.
"He preyed on divorced women," she said.
Even with everything that was happening, Rishell said it took 100 days to get her life insurance policy canceled in 2013.