Heather Jensen guilty of child abuse: Two kids died in running car while she had sex nearby
Back in 2012, we told you about the tragic deaths of William and Tyler Jensen, ages two and four, who succumbed in a running car while their mother, Heather Jensen, left them in a running car with the heat blasting as she smoked marijuana and had sex with a man in a vehicle nearby. Now, the verdict is in, and it's split. Jensen was found guilty of child abuse resulting in death, but not criminally negligent homicide. We've got the story below, featuring photos, video and the original arrest affidavit.
As we've reported, Heather, a resident of Palisade, on Colorado's Western Slope, called authorities at 6:31 p.m. on November 27, 2012 to report that William was unconscious and Tyler suffered from labored breathing that caused him to sputter as he tried to take in air.
Emergency personnel rushed to help, but they were too late to save William, who was pronounced dead at the scene. For his part, Tyler was still alive, but barely. He was initially rushed to Saint Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction before being transferred to Children's Hospital in Denver in critical condition. However, he died a few days later.
Heather initially told Mesa County Sheriff's Office deputies that she'd traveled with the kids to the Powderhorn ski resort, approximately a half-hour's drive from Palisade, and allowed the pair to play in the snow there. Afterward, she said she put them in their car seats and revved up her vehicle, a Toyota 4Runner. She then stepped outside to smoke a cigarette, at which point she was engaged in conversation by a friend who drove by. Ten minutes or so passed, at which point she climbed into the SUV and started for home, only to be stopped short by the sound of Tyler's gurgling.
She reacted by pulling over and checking on the boys -- and when she learned William wasn't breathing at all, she dialed 911. The operator sent out the alert, then instructed her on performing CPR, but to no avail.
Later, though, Heather changed key aspects of her tale, as documented in the aforementioned affidavit.
In a subsequent interview with sheriff's department reps, Heather said she'd arranged to meet a male friend at Powderhorn. After the kids played in the snow, she returned them to their car seats, started up the engine and then joined the friend in his truck, parked next to the 4Runner. She admitted she stayed there for more than an hour, not the ten minutes she'd earlier estimated, before getting back into her own vehicle and learning what had happened to the boys in the interim.
The sheriff's department subsequently impounded the 4Runner, with an eye toward determining if carbon monoxide from the running engine may have filtered into the passenger compartment. Tests suggested otherwise. However, the affidavit notes that an investigator recorded the passenger-compartment temperature with the heater on for the extended stretch the boys were thought to have been left inside the vehicle, and the results were startling. Here's an excerpt from the report:
• The first test was with the heat all the way on the hot setting, the fan at medium, and two windows cracked. The temperature at the start of the test was between 48 and 52 degrees. After half an hour, the temperature inside the vehicle jumped to 114-123 degrees. After an hour and a half, the temperature was between 127-145 degrees.
• The second test was with the windows rolled up, the heat at the highest setting and the fan speed at high. The temperature at the start of the test was 48-50 degrees. After thirty minutes, it jumped to 125-132 degrees. After an hour, it was 130-136 degrees.
Given these results, it's no surprise that the medical examiner ultimately concluded that the boys had died of hyperthermia: abnormally high body temperature (the opposite of hypothermia, which denotes dangerously low body temps). He ruled their passing accidental, but added the following caveat in his report:
Leaving children unattended in motor vehicles has well known risks associated with various forms of fatal and non-fatal injury; in particular, hyperthermia deaths occurring as a result of sun exposure in automobiles in temperate environments is well known. Other risks include, but are not limited to: Carbon Monoxide inhalation, entrapment in power windows, hypothermia, positional asphyxia, and engagement of the drive train leading to collision. Despite the likely unrecognized risk of hyperthermia in this case, the deliberate and reckless act of leaving the decedent and his brother in an unattended running motor vehicle constitutes neglect and is the sole cause directly responsible for the death of this decedent and his sibling. Despite neglect being the direct precipitating factor in the death of the decedent and his sibling, deliberate intent to kill cannot be established with certainty; therefore, the manner of death is classified as accident. The manner of death may be reclassified as homicide if additional information becomes available.
William and Tyler Jensen, in a Facebook photo.
In the end, prosecutors decided the facts of the case justified criminal charges. In January 2013, a warrant was issued in Heather's name on two counts of child abuse resulting in death, two counts of criminally negligent homicide and one count of false reporting to authorities. Bond was set at $150,000.
Shortly thereafter, Heather was arrested in North Fort Myers, Florida, after leaving a family member's home. She reportedly claimed her last name was "Holesapple" during the booking process, but this subterfuge doesn't appear to have fooled anyone. She was extradited to Colorado and her trial finally got underway last month.
Trial attendees react to the Heather Jensen verdict.
As noted by the Denver Post, the defense team attempted to counter a prosecution case featuring twenty witnesses, ranging from experts to the man she'd met at Powderhorn, with the testimony of one individual: a psychologist who said Heather had "below-average intelligence and psychological problems, including poor impulse control."
The jury didn't give the Mesa County District Attorney's Office a clean sweep on charges, with the criminally negligent homicide charges failing to win enough support. Even so, Jensen's conviction on the two child-abuse-resulting-in-death counts, as well as false reporting, gives her the likelihood of her receiving a long prison sentence.
Heather was bereft as the verdict was read, as you can see in coverage from KREX-TV in Grand Junction. That's followed by Jensen's booking photo, a 9News report about her arrest, a CBS4 piece from 2012 and the affidavit and press release from the Mesa County Sheriff's Office.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
More from our News archive: "Erin Maison-Everhart: Negligent child abuse charge in two year old's Oxycodone death."