Man who shoved wife off Rocky Mountain National Park cliff denied new trial

DENVER — Harold Henthorn, who is serving a life sentence after being convicted of pushing his wife off a cliff to her death in Rocky Mountain National Park in 2012 as part of an insurance scam, was denied a new murder trial Wednesday by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Henthorn, of Highlands Ranch, was found guilty in September 2015 of first-degree murder of his second wife, Toni Bertolet Henthorn.

He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in federal court in December 2015.

Henthorn’s attorneys had argued in his appeal that the judge should not have allowed evidence in the death of his first wife, Sandra “Lynn” Henthorn.

“This case presents us with the difficult issue of whether a district court presiding over a murder trial abused its discretion in admitting evidence of prior, similar incidents, including whether the defendant killed his second wife in circumstances similar to those that led to the death of his first wife,” the 10th Circuit ruled in its decision.

RELATED: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision

But the court determined ruled U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson was right to admit evidence in Sandra Henthorn’s death after prosecutors said it was a staged accident in May 1995 on Highway 67 about 10 miles west of Sedalia.

“The probative value of the evidence was not substantially outweighed by its potential for unfair prejudice,” the appeals court wrote.

Initially, no foul play was suspected in the September 2012 death of Toni Henthorn, with Harold Henthorn telling investigators his wife had slipped and fell 140 feet to her death as they were hiking on Deer Mountain Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park park to celebrate their 12th wedding anniversary.

But prosecutors were successful in arguing that Harold Henthorn purposefully pushed Toni Henthorn, with the motive being to claim his wife’s insurance money.

Toni Henthorn, a career eye doctor, had insurance policies totaling about $4.7 million.

“(Harold) told several conflicting stories about how Toni died,” prosecutors wrote in court documents. “He told law enforcement and family members that he did not see her fall, but rather witnessed a blur while he was reading text messages.

“He told another witness both he and Toni were checking text messages and Toni had wandered too close to the edge. He told other witnesses that Toni was trying to take pictures and slipped.”

Investigators also found a map in Harold Henthorn’s car that was marked with a pink X in the area where Toni Henthorn fell.

In 1995, prosecutors said Harold Henthorn stopped to change a tire just before Sandra Henthorn was crushed as a Jeep fell on her. But the front passenger tire was only low and not flat, prosecutors said.

Harold Henthorn also yelled at good Samaritans who stopped to help, telling them to stand back.

“The prior incidents make it more likely that (Toni Henthorn’s death) was the product of design, rather than an accident,” the appeals court wrote.