Trial evidence tells plot of Henthorn murder

Posted at 12:56 AM, Oct 03, 2015

The man has a take-charge quality as he tells a 911 operator that his wife has "fallen from a rock" in Rocky Mountain National Park and she's in critical condition.

"Hello, my name is Harold Henthorn, I'm in Rocky Mountain National Park and I need an alpine mountain rescue team immediately," he tells an Estes Park 911 operator on the afternoon of Sept. 29, 2012.

As the 911 call continues, Harold Henthorn sounds less the distraught husband with a gravely injured wife, and more like a one-man rescue operation. After he's transferred to the national park's 911 center, he gives an operator a detailed description of his location including his latitude and longitude. He also gives updates on his unconscious wife's respiration and pulse rates.

But what he really wants is a medevac helicopter, calmly explaining that "there's a clearing about 200 meters south of me…where you can easily, easily" land a chopper.

"Here's the thing, I will pay any and all expenses for a helicopter. I don't care if it's private or I don't care if it's commercial…if it's medevac, I'll pay any and all expenses right now to have you drop a paramedic down here," Henthorn tells the operator.

Fast-forward three years, and prosecutors were telling jurors in Denver federal court that the 58-year-old Henthorn, an unemployed Highlands Ranch businessman, had concocted the rescue after shoving his second wife -- Toni Henthorn -- down a 128-foot cliff to her death during a "surprise" hike to celebrate their 12th wedding anniversary.

Prosecutors said the killing was part of Henthorn's elaborate scheme to cash in his wife's three life insurance policies worth a total of $4.5 million.

Jurors agreed, finding Henthorn guilty of first-degree murder on Sept. 21. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 8.

The 911 recording -- one of several Henthorn exchanged with dispatchers that day -- is among more than 300 evidence exhibits from the trial obtained by 7NEWS Friday.

They  include a photo of a Rocky Mountain National Park map with a pink "X" marked on it -- showing where his wife fell. Investigators found the map in Henthorn's car.

Prosecutors described Henthorn's shifting accounts of what happened that afternoon. He initially said he and Toni left the trail to find a romantic spot and because of the crowds that day. They then hiked to the lower knob to see wild turkeys, for an intimate moment, or to scout future hikes to take with their daughter.

"But a map found in Henthorn's car suggested these detours were not spontaneous: it marked the spot near where Toni fell with a pink X," prosecutors noted in court documents.

Park Ranger Mark Faherty testified the husband struggled to explain why he had the X on the map

"He seemed at a loss for words," Faherty said. "He hemmed and hawed before he finally gave me an explanation."

He denied using the map during the deadly hike and said he was not sure why it was marked with an X, Faherty said.

Prosecutors also asserted that Henthorn scouted the park nine times before his wife plunged from the cliff.

The evidence exhibits include photos the couple took on the ill-fated hike.

One, taken less than an hour before the husband first called 911, shows Harold balancing on rocks the edge  of the cliff, his hand firmly clutching a pine tree branch as he turns and smiles at his wife, who's taking the photo.

The exhibit title calls the photo's location the "Fall Spot."

There's another a photo Harold took with his cellphone, showing Toni scanning the spectacular view with binoculars from the "Fall Spot." Then there's a selfie that Harold took of the couple smiling as they sat on some rocks having lunch.

Investigators shot video of the "crime scene" -- including one video shot with the camera of a drone soaring over a ranger looking down the precipice, from which Toni fell.

There's also still photos that investigators shot from below, looking up the sheer cliff.

The exhibits include "crime scene photos" from the suspicious death of Harold Henthorn's first wife in 1995. Sandra Lynn Henthorn was crushed when a Jeep Cherokee slipped off a jack while the couple changed a flat tire on a rural road near Sedalia -- several months after their 12th wedding anniversary.   

Henthorn has not been charged in that case, but the Douglas County Sheriff's Office reopened the investigation after Henthorn was charged in his second wife's death.

"These deaths were not accidents," a prosecutor said during husband's trial for Toni Henthorn's murder, arguing he staged both wifes' deaths to look like freak accidents, to which he was the only witness. In each case, the prosecutor said, Henthorn stood to benefit from his wifes' life insurance policies.

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