The Sensational Harold Henthorn Murder Case Haunts Douglas County
Within a day or two after Toni Henthorn fell to her death while hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, the whispers started in her Highlands Ranch neighborhood. They spread through Cherry Hills Community Church, which she’d attended with her husband, Harold, and their nine-year-old daughter, Hayley, and eventually reached the home of Lora Thomas.
“Lora,” a neighbor told her. “I don’t think it was an accident. I think her husband killed her.” Thomas, then the elected coroner of Douglas County, listened with professional interest.
“That’s not all,” the neighbor said. “The husband’s first wife died. I think he killed her, too. You’ve got to do something.”
Until then, Toni’s death appeared to have been a tragic accident: On September 29, 2012, the fifty-year-old ophthalmologist, who’d been hiking the remote Deer Mountain Trail with Harold, plunged to her death from a fifty-foot cliff while taking photos. The two had been celebrating their twelfth wedding anniversary.
Thomas went to her office in the Douglas County Justice Center in Castle Rock and pulled an old coroner’s file marked “Henthorn.” It concerned the death of 37-year-old Sandra Henthorn of Englewood, who had been crushed by a Jeep Cherokee late on the night of May 6, 1995, while her husband, Harold, was changing its tire. Sandra, who went by her middle name, Lynn, had no pulse when help arrived, and showed symptoms of massive internal bleeding and oxygen deprivation. She was flown via rescue helicopter to Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, but was pronounced dead while in surgery.
Two days later, Dr. Ben Galloway performed the autopsy at Andrews Mortuary in Castle Rock and determined the cause of death as “mechanical [positional] asphyxiation secondary to a vehicle slipping off the jack and falling on top of the decedent.” Lynn had been suffocated by a 3,000-pound Jeep.
There were no reports from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, which had investigated the case, about how Lynn might have come to be under a Jeep or why it would fall on her. To Thomas, the thin file felt predictable: A former major with the Colorado State Patrol, she’d campaigned on the argument that her predecessors had mismanaged the coroner’s office for years.
To get more information, she walked next door and asked to see the sheriff’s department file on Lynn Henthorn. Although there was much more information here, the investigation into Lynn’s death, she realized, had lasted only six days. After that, the sheriff’s office had closed the case and released the Jeep and everything in it to Harold Henthorn. The lead investigator wrote in a report that Lynn had died in an accident. Harold collected nearly $500,000 from his wife’s life-insurance policy.
Thomas was appalled by how quickly the investigation was closed. “This was a classic case of the Keystone Kops: They’re all running around doing something and accomplishing nothing.”
That opinionated take is no surprise, however. Thomas’s tenure as coroner, which ended last December, was marked both by brutal politics and deep distrust and animosity between her and Sheriff Dave Weaver — a distrust that had occasionally made the news as she’d landed on both sides of minor scandals.
A bigger story, though, was the case of Harold and the two Mrs. Henthorns. Last November, authorities arrested Harold, 58, and charged him with Toni’s murder in Rocky Mountain National Park. At the same time, the public discovered that Douglas County had reopened its own investigation into Lynn’s death. The news created instant headlines around the world and landed on the cover of People magazine.
Federal prosecutors, led by U.S. Attorney John Walsh, who represents the District of Colorado, now want to introduce details from Lynn’s death at Harold’s trial, set to start this fall. Harold has pleaded not guilty.
But the journey back in time will be very personal for Douglas County law enforcement. Most of the investigators who worked on Lynn’s case all those years ago are not only still with the department, but they’ve advanced to become part of the command staff. That means that some of them could be reviewing possible investigative errors in a case that they themselves closed.
This situation hasn’t gone unnoticed. In her final days as coroner, Thomas released a report — prepared by a hired consultant — that was deeply critical of the sheriff’s work on the Lynn Henthorn case. It cited a number of procedural lapses and questioned why the probe ended so quickly.
New Douglas County sheriff Tony Spurlock is aware of this delicate state of affairs. And while he has publicly expressed doubts that Lynn died in an accident, he has also been careful not to second-guess the work of his predecessors in the original investigation.
A family photo of Harold and Lynn Henthorn.
On May 6, 1995, Harold and Lynn Henthorn left their Englewood home and set out for a Saturday drive along the South Platte River to the
fly-fishing town of Deckers. But sometime after it got dark, the couple experienced a problem with their tire while Harold was driving along narrow, forest-lined Highway 67 in Sedalia.
At about 10 p.m., a hysterical Harold flagged down a vehicle carrying Joseph, Manuel and Patricia Montoya and a woman named Maxine Southern. “A car had fallen on his wife and she was underneath the car not breathing,” according to a report written by Douglas County sheriff’s investigator Robert McMahan. The Montoyas made their way to the home of nearby resident Van Anthony Hayes to call for help, then returned to the road, where Lynn lay on her stomach next to a Jeep in a gravel pullout. She was blue and not breathing.
Firefighters and paramedics arrived shortly thereafter, and soon the scene was filled with emergency vehicles, their lights illuminating the night. In his report, West Douglas County Fire Chief Terry Thompson said he noticed that the Jeep was teetering on a silver hydraulic jack located under the front axle in the middle of the car. A second jack, red or dark orange, lay on its side near the right front tire, the tire missing and the rim exposed.
“The victim was dead when [paramedic James Larson] arrived on the scene. They performed CPR on the victim and ‘brought her back,’” one of the rescuers later told an investigator. But her condition was extremely critical. After rescue workers got Lynn’s pulse going again, she was airlifted to Swedish Medical Center.
Throughout the evening, Harold spoke to several officers, starting with Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Kennedy. “Henthorn appeared visibly shaken,” Kennedy wrote in his report. “I asked him if he could please let me know exactly how she was injured.”
In what would become an evolving story, with details added with each telling to various officers, Harold said that while driving, he sensed a problem with the Jeep’s right front tire. It was variously described in reports as “flat,” “soft,” “mushy” and “spongy.” He first tried hoisting the car up with a black factory jack, but the jack got stuck. He squirted oil on it but couldn’t get it working.
He then used another jack, a silver “boat jack,” placed under the front axle, with the base of the jack supported by cinder blocks. As Lynn shined a flashlight, he removed the lug nuts, which his wife held. Once he got the tire off, he took it around to the back of the Jeep and tossed it into the hatch area. The tire bounced back out of the Jeep, and the jolt knocked off the spare, which had been hanging by a bolt on the hatch door. The spare fell into the hatch area. The impact knocked the Jeep off the jack, and it fell on Lynn. Harold speculated that she had crawled under the Jeep to retrieve a lug nut.
“Harold!” she called out, and when he went back around to the front of the Jeep, he saw her face-down, with the rim of the right front tire pinned against her back. She could speak for a while but was struggling to breathe.
“She stopped talking, and when he pulled her out she was not breathing,” according to McMahan’s report. How Harold eventually did get her out was not clear. In one version, Harold said he’d used a second jack, an “orange boat jack” that he was also carrying, to lift up the Jeep. In other versions, that jack was used to help lift the car to change the tire.
McMahan was the second person to speak with Harold, arriving at the scene and getting a briefing from Kennedy, who had talked to him first. Surveying the scene, McMahan noted that the Jeep tilted to its right, the wheel rim pressed against the dirt with a “ratchet and socket type tool” and a pair of pliers next to it. A silver hydraulic jack was under the middle of the car up against the front axle, with three cinder blocks around it. An orange hydraulic jack sat on its side about a foot behind the removed wheel.
McMahan found two Goodyear Wrangler radial tires, one stacked on top of the other, in the hatch. The Jeep’s interior, McMahan observed, was “relatively clean.” The two driver’s-side doors and the hatch were unlocked, but the passenger-side doors were locked. On the other side of one of those locked doors lay a black jack, of the sort that comes with a vehicle, lying on the floorboards behind the front passenger seat.
McMahan made one other interesting observation in his report: “On the front passenger fender of the vehicle, right behind the wheel well of the missing wheel, was an apparent partial foot print type mark.”
A family photo of Harold and Lynn Henthorn.
Following the interviews with Kennedy and McMahan, Harold spoke with two other officers. One was Deputy Jeffrey Bredehoeft, who drove him to the hospital and said that “Harold was very excited and almost hyperventilating.” The other was Investigator Kevin B. Duffy, who spoke with Harold at the hospital while Lynn was in surgery. Duffy had spoken earlier to the attending nurse, who told him she “did not believe the victim would survive the injuries,” he wrote in his report. Five minutes after their interview, at 2:45 a.m., the attending physician, Dr. Richard Tillquist, came into the waiting room and told Harold that his wife was dead. Harold’s reaction wasn’t noted in the report.
The case file shows a flurry of law enforcement activity that night and over the next few days. A lab technician named Sharon Bronner processed the scene, taking photos and measurements, drawing sketches and meticulously logging things found in and outside of the Jeep, which was towed to an impound lot and placed under seal.
There seemed to be an underlying sense that this might not have been an accident. In one of his reports, Duffy recounted the instructions that his supervisor, Sergeant Brock McCoy, gave him before dispatching him to the hospital.
“Sergeant Brock McCoy advised me that the incident seemed suspicious due to the fact that the victims [sic] husband was with her at the time of the accident and the victim was found trapped under the tire rim of the car while they were changing a flat tire,” wrote Duffy.
Over the next two days, as McMahan explored the backgrounds of the Henthorns, he found that Lynn had worked as a “family services resource coordinator” at a place called Denver Options. She was “very optimistic and happy,” her boss, Nancy Hodges, told McMahan on May 8. Hodges further described Lynn as “one of the most compulsive detailed safety-conscious people,” someone who did not drink alcohol or use anything else that would impair her judgment.
Hodges characterized Harold as a “very outgoing man and a ‘wheeler dealer’ almost overwhelming in a positive sense,” according to McMahan’s report. He’d bring Hodges flowers on Valentine’s Day and surprise his wife with gifts at work. “Lynn described him as a very thoughtful man,” said the report.
“Lynn’s marriage appeared to be wonderful,” wrote McMahan after his interview with Hodges, noting that the couple had recently purchased a mountain cabin along with another couple. The only recent problem had been Lynn’s struggle to get pregnant. Lynn “underwent some fertility counseling and some exploratory surgery,” according to McMahan. “She and her husband were working this fertility problem out, and whatever the next steps were sounded hopeful that she may be able to conceive.”
If they ever had any domestic fights, Hodges didn’t know about them. But despite her mostly upbeat appraisal, she had her doubts about the circumstances of Lynn’s death. McMahan wrote, “This whole incident seems suspicious to her.”
She wasn’t the only one. On the same day that McMahan spoke with Hodges, Patricia Montoya — one of the first witnesses at the scene — called the evidence technician. “Montoya asked her if we had arrested the husband yet,” McMahan’s report said. “Montoya stated there was no way the woman got under the car like that.”
Then, as McMahan poked around Harold’s past, he came across a curious incident. The Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office had listed Harold as a suspect in a shoplifting case at a J.C. Penney store in Littleton. On March 11, 1994, Harold allegedly stole “miscellaneous mens [sic] underwear” before being apprehended by store security. The items were returned, according to the sheriff’s file, but the paper trail ended there, and it wasn’t apparent whether Harold was ever prosecuted.
On May 8, 1995, McMahan spoke with Harold on the phone. Harold told the investigator that two weeks earlier, Lynn had undergone exploratory surgery that turned up five benign tumors on her uterus. The tumors were to have been removed in July, and “it was anticipated that she could become pregnant,” wrote McMahan. Expecting that they would be able to start a family, Harold said, the spouses each took out life-insurance policies. Their applications had been approved in February. Lynn’s death meant a payout to Harold of nearly $500,000.
The next morning, McMahan met in person with Harold at his Englewood home. Sergeant McCoy accompanied McMahan, and Harold was there with Lynn’s brother, Kevin Rishell of Scottsdale, Arizona. Going over the events of May 6 one more time, Harold again spoke of leaving the house for the mountain drive, the tire problem, the malfunctioning black jack, and his wife getting pinned under the car.
This was the last interview with Harold mentioned in the sheriff’s file. Taken together, the reports show several inconsistencies in his stories, which isn’t unusual in the case of an emotional person recounting a traumatic event. Nor is it unusual for officers, working off scribbled notes, to get minor things wrong.
But key points stood out. For one, Harold gave different times that he and Lynn had left the house. He told Bredehoeft in the patrol car that it had been 3 p.m.; he later told McMahan it was closer to 6 p.m. He also gave differing accounts of their activities before the tire problem. He first told McMahan at the scene that they pulled over while on the way to Sedalia for dinner. Then he told Bredehoeft the tire problem happened after the couple had dinner at the Sedalia Grill. When talking to McMahan at home, he returned to the original version — that they were driving toward the Sedalia Grill when the tire felt soft.
Only a murky timeline emerged, with the details of exactly where the Henthorns had been and when, and which direction they were headed in when the tire problem occurred, remaining unclear. But the report shows no record that anyone spoke to the staff at the Sedalia Grill or poked around Deckers. No one appears to have asked Harold about the footprint on the Jeep’s fender, or why someone might have stood there. And there’s no record that anyone photographed the print or examined the shoes that Harold was wearing that night.
Instead, on May 9, three days after the incident, the investigation ground to a halt. Deputy Coroner Wesley A. Riber wrote a letter saying that he had reviewed the autopsy findings, spoken to a paramedic and personally examined the Jeep, three pieces of cinder block and the silver jack. As a result, Riber determined that the Jeep’s wheel rim lined up with the parallel marks on Lynn’s back.
“This,” the coroner concluded, “is an accidental death.”
The next day, McMahan conducted what appeared to be a brief interview with Patricia Montoya, and on May 12, he created a supplemental report. “This case has been investigated and it has been determined that this death was an accident and no criminal charges will be filed,” it read.
This photo of Harold and Toni Henthorn, from Harold’s now-deleted Facebook page, appeared in numerous news stories online.
More than seventeen years later, Harold Henthorn, whose business card listed his profession as fundraising for nonprofit organizations, and his second wife, Toni, set out for another trip to the mountains — in a different Jeep. The two had first met on a Christian dating website. Like Lynn, Toni was very religious, and always saw the best in people, friends and relatives said.
They started their hike that day around 1:30 p.m., Harold told National Park Service investigators, and took a side trail, looking for a romantic spot. They stopped for lunch on top of a ridge, where Toni looked through the binoculars for turkeys and deer. Then they hiked down to a second spot for what Harold called “romantic time.”
According to Harold’s story, which is contained in court records, they took pictures of each other, passing the camera back and forth. Toni was telling Harold where to stand for a photo when he got a text message from their babysitter saying that their daughter’s soccer team had won, 5-1. Just then, Harold saw a blur and Toni was gone.
He hiked 45 minutes down to the bottom of a cliff, where he found her, unconscious but alive. He called 911 at 5:54 p.m.
Prosecutors believe Harold pushed her.
To anyone reading the case file, the parallels between the cases of the two Mrs. Henthorns are striking. As in the first case, prosecutors say that Harold again made inconsistent and contradictory statements, telling stories that strained credulity.
For instance, there’s the National Park Service map that investigators found in Harold’s Jeep. It had been marked with an “X” in pink highlighter on the spot where Toni plunged to her death. When questioned about it by a Park Service investigator, Henthorn “appeared at a loss for words,” according to a search-warrant affidavit.
Then there was the fact that investigators couldn’t locate — anywhere near Toni’s body or in her backpack — the binoculars that Harold said she was looking through for wild turkeys and deer. Nor could they find any photos on the SD card inside her crushed camera of the sort that Harold said she was taking when she fell.
Over the course of further interviews, Harold changed his story about the text message and the details of the hike. Rangers retraced his steps; it took them only ten minutes, not 45, to get from where Toni fell to the bottom of the cliff.
And again, Harold would benefit financially from his wife’s death — only this time the total insurance payouts would be $4.5 million. After Toni’s death, prosecutors alleged, Harold also gave misleading statements about that insurance, as well as about what he did for a living. They further claimed that Harold may even have tried to kill Toni once before, by dropping a two-by-four on her head while working on a deck project.
None of this was known to the public at the time of Toni’s death. But word of the similarities quickly reached the police — and then the media.
On October 2, 2012, three days after Toni’s death, anonymous letters began arriving at the Park Service and the coroner’s office in Larimer County. They said that Henthorn’s first wife had died seventeen years earlier under similarly strange circumstances — and with Harold as the only witness. “Please thoroughly investigate the death of Dr. Toni Henthorn,” the letters read. “Sadly, there are many similarities to these two accidents.”
Over the next three weeks, the Park Service, the Estes Park Police Department, the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office and Coroner’s Office, and the Department of Homeland Security received sixteen different letters and phone calls. All of them expressed concern that Toni’s death wasn’t the accident the local papers and TV stations were reporting.
Brian Maass of CBS4 in Denver also received an e-mail. It made reference to the station’s story titled “Victim Identified in Fall in Rocky Mountain National Park.”
“Your story...is interesting,” the e-mail said. “This man’s first wife died in a tragic and freak accident as well.” Over the next year, Maass investigated the story on and off, conducting interviews with sources and asking for documents. A big break came when the reporter obtained a then-still-under-wraps autopsy report for Toni Henthorn, which concluded that Toni had died of multiple blunt-force injuries “when she fell or was pushed down a cliff at Rocky Mountain National Park.
“Homicide,” the coroner wrote, “cannot be excluded.”
CBS4 went with the story of Harold and the two Mrs. Henthorns in October 2013, about a year after Toni’s death. It featured footage of Maass trying to talk to Harold in his driveway, with Harold backing his car out, saying, “I’ve really got to run.”
Harold’s lawyer, Craig Truman, gave Maass the same statement — the only statement — he’d give all the media: “I’m sure when all the facts are known in this difficult and complicated case that justice will be done.”
Truman declined to comment for this story.
Justice is what Lynn’s family, now fully aware of the accusations against Harold, wants as well. “Our family has known Harold Henthorn for nearly 40 years — first as a college friend, then as our sister Sandra Lynn’s husband,” family members said in a statement. “After Lynn’s death, he remained part of the extended Rishell family. Over the years we spent time with Harold, Toni, and their daughter on vacations and visits to the East Coast and to Denver. When we learned of Toni’s death two years ago, we were shocked and saddened. At the same time, however, the baffling circumstances surrounding Toni’s death gave us a strong sense of déjà vu. As the investigation into Toni’s death progressed, it became clear that Harold Henthorn was not the man we thought we knew, and that he had in fact been lying to us for many years.”
Former Douglas County coroner Lora Thomas was skeptical of the initial investigation into Lynn Henthorn’s death.
Until late 2014, Lora Thomas had received nearly all of her information about the Henthorn case from news reports. After reading the case file back in 2012, “I just patiently waited,” she says, letting the investigation run its course. That changed in November 2014 with Harold’s arrest.
Saying she was concerned about the accuracy of Lynn Henthorn’s 1995 death certificate, which still read “accidental,” Thomas e-mailed Elizabeth Shott, an investigator with the Park Service, which, along with the FBI, had taken over as a lead agency on the overall investigation. “In reviewing this report which I’ve attached, I see that it does not list a manner of death. However, the death certificate was signed out as an accident,” she wrote. She said she’d read the sheriff’s investigative file and was “wondering if it would be appropriate to have a discussion about changing the manner of death on the 1995 death certificate for Sandra Henthorn to ‘undetermined.’”
Thomas says Shott called her back quickly but referred her to investigators with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office — the same investigators whom she’d been trying to go around, since she didn’t expect their cooperation.
Douglas County is dominated by Republican voters and elected officials. The politics can be tough and the playing field very small.
In her 2010 run for coroner, Thomas faced Carter Lord, who had served as a deputy coroner under the term-limited Wesley Riber — the same Wesley Riber who in 1995 determined that Lynn Henthorn had died in an accident. Thomas accused the office of wasteful spending, among other things, and went on to beat Lord. But the bad blood from the election spilled over into her relations with the sheriff’s office, because Thomas believed that Sheriff Weaver supported Lord. Weaver denied it, but Thomas said she had photos of the sheriff embracing Lord at a campaign event.
After the election, Thomas said that she and her staff were locked out of the Douglas County Justice Center’s gym and vending-machine areas, which are controlled by the sheriff. Weaver then claimed that a spiteful Thomas had released to the public sensitive information about a double homicide after first offering to withhold it if she could get back the gym and vending machine privileges. Thomas later admitted that her actions were a “terrible mistake on my part,” but she didn’t stop making enemies.
She would also be instrumental in the legal downfall of her primary opponent. Taking inventory of her office after the election, she found a gun missing. She turned the matter over to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, and in 2012, Lord was charged with theft of two firearms — one of which he sold for $500 — as well as embezzlement of public property and forgery. Last year, he was sentenced to three years of probation.
By 2013, Thomas had set her sights on the top job at the sheriff’s office, announcing in October that she was jumping into the primary. Weaver had left the department to become a Douglas County commissioner; his temporary replacement was Undersheriff Tony Spurlock, a thirty-year veteran of county law enforcement. Once again campaigning to shake things up, Thomas went up against Spurlock and Castle Rock Police Department Commander John Anderson at the GOP caucus, but this time didn’t get enough votes to make the primary ballot.
Spurlock got the nomination bid and faced challenger Brock McCoy in the general election — coincidentally, the same Brock McCoy who had investigated the Lynn Henthorn case, now retired and running on the Libertarian ticket.
Thomas didn’t go out quietly, though. In her last days in office, she filed a public-records request in an effort to pursue the Henthorn case and then hired a consultant, retired Denver Police Department homicide detective Charles McCormick, to review the case file. McCormick is now a private detective who helps lawyers with trial prep; it was his report, released in late December, that found a number of lapses in the original investigation, from poor note-taking to bad interviewing procedures. For instance, none of the sessions were recorded, and it was often unclear from the reports which statements were direct quotes and which were paraphrased.
But his central criticism was that the investigation ended too soon. “They just didn’t follow up on a lot of things that they themselves saw,” McCormick wrote, singling out the apparent footprint on the bumper and the contradictory statements about whether the Henthorns had eaten at the Sedalia Grill. He also noted that the property report didn’t mention the oilcan that Harold said he’d used to try to fix the stuck black jack, and there was no evidence that anybody had tested the jack. Moreover, it did not appear that anyone had looked to see if the tire had a nail in it.
The biggest question was why Deputy Coroner Riber had concluded that the death was accidental when the investigation still seemed to be chugging along.
“That would pour cold water on any investigation right away,” says McCormick today. “Why he reached that conclusion at that particular point in time is a mystery to me.”
Riber didn’t return a call from Westword seeking comment.
On December 18, 2014, about two weeks before she left office, Thomas officially changed the manner of death for Sandra Lynn Henthorn to “undetermined.” She sent new death certificates to members of Lynn’s family.
A family photo of Lynn Henthorn, who died in 1995.
After more than two years of mostly silence, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement in January: The Lynn Henthorn case had been quietly reopened in 2012 because of the “extraordinary circumstances” surrounding Toni Henthorn’s death.
“It is hoped that this new information and a second look at this case will provide a clearer picture of what might have happened,” Sheriff Spurlock said in a statement. “We owe it to the family and friends of Sandra ‘Lynn’ Henthorn.”
Since September 2012, detectives had conducted about forty interviews, the statement said, adding, “Additional information has been uncovered that was unknown and/or unavailable at the time.”
As to why the department didn’t find that information at the time, Spurlock said, “In the past 20 years, investigations and investigative techniques, as well as technology, have not only changed drastically, but have allowed many cases to be reopened.”
Spurlock declined to speak with Westword, but in an interview with CBS4, he called Lynn’s death “very suspicious” and said he didn’t believe it was an accident.
But he wouldn’t second-guess the original investigators, who now make up much of his command staff. They are: Captain Jason Kennedy, who had spoken with Harold at the scene and now heads the investigation division; Kevin Duffy, who interviewed Harold at the hospital and later rose to become the captain in charge of the detentions division; Robert McMahan, the lead investigator on the case, who is now a captain as well, overseeing the professional-standards division; and Jeff Bredehoeft, who talked to Harold in the patrol car and who is now a sergeant.
“It’s very easy to point fingers. It’s more difficult to take the evidence that you have today and move forward, and that’s what we’re going to do. I think that if we had a chance to do it over again, we would do things differently,” Spurlock told CBS4. “Things are always different when you look back. Hindsight is twenty-twenty. It serves me no good to look back twenty years or thirty or fifteen years and make a judgment on what was done at that point, because I can’t change that.”
Although the sheriff’s office wouldn’t disclose what new information has been uncovered, there are details in the court filings. In a motion to introduce prior acts at Harold’s upcoming trial, federal prosecutors claim that he had secretly taken out a life-insurance policy on his former sister-in-law, Grace Rishell, who had been married to Lynn’s brother, Kevin.
In 2009, while Grace was in the midst of a divorce, she agreed to have Harold take out a $250,000 policy on her life that would pay $50,000 each to her brother and four daughters. Harold would handle the paperwork. Prosecutors ascribed two alleged motives to Harold; the first was that he was attracted to her. “The evidence will show that Henthorn had a romantic interest in Rishell,” said the filing.
The other, they alleged, was that he may have wanted to kill her and collect the insurance himself.
Unbeknownst to Grace, after she had decided not to go through with the policy, Harold forged her signature and made himself the beneficiary, prosecutors say.
Prosecutors now want the jury to hear about this, along with evidence related to Lynn Henthorn’s death.
Stan Goldman, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a former public defender, says the prosecution is taking a risk with the request to introduce the Lynn Henthorn evidence because it might prove to be a double-edged sword. It arguably exposes weaknesses in their case by suggesting that they lack enough evidence regarding Toni’s death, Goldman says.
“They admit it themselves in their own brief,” he says. “They are saying: It’s very probative, and that’s why we really need to be able to get it in.” Goldman says there’s a “fair chance” the judge will admit it. “The government’s hope is that this will end up being damaging and not helpful for Harold’s case,” says Goldman. “The more frightened you are of the defendant, the more likely you are to convict. As soon as the jury decides he’s done some crime before, he is dangerous in their eyes.”
Either way, if the judge allows the evidence in, it will hold the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office up to its greatest scrutiny yet in the Henthorn case.
Spurlock has given no indication as to whether Harold will ever be charged in Lynn’s death. But consultant McCormick says that no matter how hard the sheriff tries to do things right this time, he’ll be hampered by the passage of time, with witnesses’ memories fading, evidence gone, and Harold no longer talking without a lawyer.
Henthorn himself remains in custody, where he is being held without bail. Although his trial had been scheduled for May, his attorneys asked for a delay because of the overwhelming amount of evidence and documentation that they need to review.
The trial is now scheduled to begin on September 14.
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