No verdict yet in cliff death

Published 12:05 am Saturday, September 19, 2015

DENVER (AP) — Jurors considering the fate of a man accused of pushing his wife to her death off a cliff in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park deliberated for about five hours Friday before going home without reaching a verdict.

The jury of eight women and four men, who will resume deliberations Monday, must decide whether to convict Harold Henthorn, 59, of first-degree murder in the death of his second wife, a wealthy Natchez native. Toni Bertolet Henthorn died after falling about 130 feet in a remote area where the couple was hiking Sept. 29, 2012, their 12th wedding anniversary.

Prosecutors argued Henthorn stood to benefit from $4.7 million in life insurance policies that his wife didn’t know existed.

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During closing arguments Friday, Craig L. Truman said prosecutors have failed to prove Toni Henthorn’s death was anything but a tragic accident.

Harold Henthorn told investigators he surprised his wife with a hike to celebrate their anniversary, and the two wandered off the trail for privacy. Toni Henthorn paused to take a photo of the view and fell face-first over the ledge, he said.

Prosecutors argued Harold Henthorn carefully planned his wife’s killing. Assistant U.S. Attorney Suneeta Hazra reminded jurors that Harold Henthorn scouted the remote area of the popular park 75 miles north of Denver nine times before bringing Toni Henthorn with him. He was searching for the “perfect place to murder someone,” where there would be no witnesses and no chance of her surviving, she said.

Prosecutors also seized on Henthorn’s inconsistent accounts of the fatal fall to investigators and his wife’s relatives, and said the evidence did not match his shifting stories. His lawyer told jurors that Henthorn was prone to speaking whatever came into his mind, which he said accounts for the differences.

“He is incapable of telling the same story twice,” Truman said. “I have no idea why that is, but that’s the case.”

During the trial, prosecutors argued the fatal fall was eerily reminiscent of the death of Harold 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 hasn’t been charged in that case, but police reopened their investigation after Toni Henthorn’s death.

“He knew the spot for his next murder had to be father away, more remote, where help couldn’t come,” Hazra said.

Toni Henthorn, 50, wasn’t an avid hiker, so it didn’t make sense for her to go willingly into such dangerous terrain, investigators testified during the trial. Park rangers said Harold Henthorn could not explain why he had a park map with an “X’’ drawn at the spot where his wife fell.

Toni Henthorn was a successful ophthalmologist who also earned money from her family’s thriving oil business.

Harold Henthorn told her he was a wealthy entrepreneur and persuaded her to move with him to the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch. They had a daughter, now 9.

Prosecutors said Harold Henthorn made phony business cards to make it seem like he was a hardworking fundraiser for churches and nonprofits, but investigators found no evidence he had any income from regular employment.

The defense did not call any witnesses during the trial.