DENVER (AP) — A woman whose husband is charged with pushing her to her death off a cliff in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park was wearing her wedding ring when she died, but the expensive diamond was missing, a park ranger testified Wednesday.
Prosecutors say Harold Henthorn staged his wife’s death to look like an accident because he stood to benefit from life insurance policies totaling $4.7 million that she didn’t know existed. He has been charged with first-degree murder in the Sept. 29, 2012, death of Toni Henthorn, 50, who plummeted about 130 feet off a remote, rocky ledge.
Ranger Paul Larson said he could not find the diamond in the craggy, secluded area where authorities found the body. Harold Henthorn told investigators that his wife fell during a scenic hike they took to celebrate their 12th wedding anniversary and that he moved her body to flatter terrain so he could tend to her.
Investigators previously said they suspected Henthorn of removing the diamond from his wife’s ring, in part because her hand was not badly injured in the fall.
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Deputy Coroner Jere Gunderson said he found it odd that Henthorn quickly volunteered information about the diamond when interviewed, saying it was worth $30,000 but “the missing stone did not matter at all at this point.”
Larson said he drew no conclusions about the diamond. But he and other investigators noted unusual details from the scene.
For example, even though Toni Henthorn’s fall was hard and fast enough to break large tree branches, her camera landed almost completely intact just feet from where her husband moved her body, Larson said.
She was not an avid hiker, so it didn’t make sense that she would have gone willingly to such dangerous terrain, Coroner James Wilkerson testified. And contrary to what Henthorn told dispatchers, Wilkerson said he found no evidence he actually performed CPR on his wife.
An autopsy showed Toni Henthorn suffered serious brain and chest injuries and severe blood loss, but it did not reveal whether she fell or was pushed, Wilkerson said.
“I couldn’t determine whether it was an accident or whether, with some of the unusual or suspicious circumstances, it was a homicide,” he testified.
Prosecutors say Henthorn carefully planned the killing, scouting the trail nine times before taking his wife, a wealthy ophthalmologist from Mississippi, with him. As they wandered off the trail to capture the view, Toni Henthorn paused to take a photo, the defendant told investigators. Then she tumbled face-first over the ledge.
Henthorn’s defense attorney, Craig L. Truman, told jurors that the death was a tragic accident and that Henthorn raced down the steep rocks to help his wife.
Prosecutors said the fatal fall was reminiscent of the death of Henthorn’s first wife, Sandra Lynn Henthorn, who was crushed when a car slipped off a jack while they changed a flat tire in 1995 — several months after their 12th wedding anniversary. Henthorn has not been charged in that case, but police reopened the investigation after Toni Henthorn’s death.
“The government thinks lightning never strikes twice,” Truman told jurors. “Wait to see the evidence.”