DENVER (CBS4) - With the murder trial of Harold Henthorn winding down, prosecutors called his sister-in-law Grace Rishell to the stand Wednesday morning where she said after the death of his first wife in 1995, Harold Henthorn said, "My bride is gone."
Rishell said after his second wife fell to her death 17 years later, Harold Henthorn made the exact same proclamation: "My bride is gone, my bride is gone."
Rishell, who was married to the brother of Harold Henthorn's first wife, Lynn, said she felt a sense of "déjà vu" after Henthorn's second wife, Toni, fell to her death in 2012 during an anniversary hike in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Harold Henthorn is on trial for murder in the death of his second wife, but was not charged in the death of his first wife, Lynn. That 1995 case was ruled an accident although Douglas County investigators have since reopened that 20-year-old case.
On a remote Douglas County road the couple's Jeep fell on Lynn Henthorn during a tire change. Harold Henthorn maintains his wife scrambled under the Jeep to retrieve a lug nut when a jack that was holding up the Jeep gave way.
Rishell stayed close with Harold Henthorn after Lynn's death and through his subsequent marriage to Toni Henthorn.
In both deaths Grace Rishell testified Harold Henthorn had the ashes of each wife spread at the top of Red Mountain in southern Colorado near Ouray. She said when Lynn Henthorn died under the couple's Jeep in 1995 in what Harold Henthorn described as a freak accident, "He had her cremated very quickly … we were all upset," said Rishell, who said the cremation was against her family's wishes.
When Toni Henthorn died in 2012 Henthorn again had his wife quickly cremated. Toni Henthorn's family objected to the cremation.
Rishell said when Lynn Henthorn died in 1995 Henthorn said, "My bride is gone." She said in 2012, on the night Toni Henthorn died, Harold Henthorn first texted her at 9:04 p.m. that "Toni is injured." However park rangers have said that they arrived at the fall site an hour earlier at 8:09 p.m. Three minutes later, at 8:12 p.m., a park ranger reported Toni Henthorn was dead. It's unclear why an hour after a ranger said Toni Henthorn was dead, Harold Henthorn was sending text messages suggesting she was still alive. Rishell said at 9:18 p.m. Harold Henthorn sent her another text reading, "My bride is gone."
A close friend of Harold Henthorn's, Lee Hettick, testified Wednesday that he felt Henthorn made odd statements related to the death of each of his wives. Hettick, who knew Harold Henthorn during his first and second marriages, said after the death of Lynn Henthorn in 1995 Harold Henthorn never expressed any feeling of responsibility for Lynn's death. Hettick said he thought that was unusual.
He also said that the night Toni Henthorn died he received a text from Harold at 9:46 p.m. from Harold saying Toni was "critical ... pray," even though park rangers say she was dead nearly an hour and a half before that text.
Seventeen minutes later Hettick received a follow up text from Henthorn saying "My bride is gone." Hettick said when he later asked Harold Henthorn what happened, Henthorn explained that he didn't see much since he was trying to figure out how to work a new cellphone. Other friends and family members have testified that Henthorn told them different versions of what he was doing when his wife fell roughly 140 feet to her death. He told several people that he was reading a text message when his wife slipped and fell.
Hettick said after Toni's death Henthorn said, "I can't believe this has happened to me." He said Henthorn never second-guessed himself for any of his decision making the day his wife died, instead smearing park rangers who were investigating the death.
"He felt park rangers wanted to make a name for themselves," said Hettick. But he said Henthorn said, "They had it all wrong." Hettick said Henthorn told him that "If Toni hadn't gotten herself killed in the park I wouldn't have all these problems."
Defense attorney Craig Truman is expected to present his case Thursday and he has indicated it will take less than a day. The Henthorn case will likely be in the hands of the jury for deliberations no later than Friday.
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