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Highlands Ranch Man Arrested 2 Years After Wife's Deadly Fall

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. (CBS4) - Harold Henthorn, a 58-year-old Highlands Ranch man charged with his wife's mysterious death, smiled at his lawyer in court Thursday afternoon and said he understood why he had been arrested earlier in the day and the possible penalties he was facing if convicted of his wife's 2012 death.

"Yes your honor," said Henthorn, who sat in handcuffs when Magistrate Judge Kathleen Tafoya asked him if he understood why he had been indicted and was being held by federal authorities.

Thursday morning, after he dropped his daughter off at school, federal and local authorities arrested Henthorn on a single federal murder charge as he was returning to his home at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac.

"It blows you away, that's the last thing you suspect," said neighbor AJ Simpson of the Henthorn arrest. "I was pretty surprised, shocked actually."

Harold Henthorn, Toni Henthorn
Harold and Toni Henthorn (credit CBS)

Henthorn, a self-described fund raiser for charities, churches and non-profits, had been under the federal microscope for more than two years. The scrutiny began not long after his wife, Toni Henthorn, fell from a cliff and died in Rocky Mountain National Park on Sept. 29, 2012.

The well-liked ophthalmologist fell about 50 feet on Deer Mountain in RMNP. Harold Henthorn told authorities that his 50-year-old wife fell as she was taking a picture during a hike to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

But the Larimer County coroner's office wasn't so sure what happened was an accident. The coroner's office wrote that Toni Henthorn "fell or was pushed down a cliff… the manner of death is undetermined… homicide cannot be excluded."

On Wednesday, a federal grand jury indicted Henthorn in his wife's death charging him with one count of first degree murder, saying that he "willfully, deliberately, maliciously, and with premeditation" killed his wife.

Craig Truman, Henthorn's lawyer, declined to discuss the case saying he did not discuss his cases outside of court.

Toni Henthorn's brother, Todd Bertolet, told CBS4 he was not surprised by the indictment.

"We've always had the utmost confidence in very talented people with the FBI and the National Park Service. We've always felt that justice would come one day and this is a satisfactory day in knowing that justice for Toni is proceeding along," he said.

Bertolet had earlier told CBS4 he and his family never believed his sister's death was an accident.

"He had a hand in my sister's death," Bertolet told CBS4. Bertolet said that since his sister's death, his family has learned Harold Henthorn fabricated information about his background, his employment and who he was.

"The trophy of the family was tarnished by a loser who doesn't pull his weight, has no job, is not a good person and is a liar. That's not what my parents had envisioned for their daughter," he said.

The CBS4 Investigation had previously reported that Toni Henthorn was insured for $4.5 million, in the form of three policies for $1.5 million each, and that someone made a claim for part of that insurance money fewer than 36 hours after her death.

It's not clear who tried to file a claim on the policy so soon after Henthorn's death. The attempted claim on the insurance policy came on the first business day after her death, before her body had been cremated and days before a memorial service was held for Dr. Henthorn.

A second policy for $1.5 million names Harold Henthorn as the primary beneficiary and a third policy for $1.5 million names the Toni Henthorn Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust as the beneficiary.

Sources say Harold Henthorn was also the beneficiary on a $300,000. Life insurance policy taken out on his first wife, Sandra Lynn , who also died in a freak accident. In that case, Henthorn was again the lone witness to his wife's death, which occurred on a rural road, at night, in Douglas County in 1995. In that case, the married couple was returning late at night from a mountain outing when Henthorn told investigators he believed one of the tires on his Jeep Cherokee felt "mushy" and may have been going flat on Highway 67 about 8.5 miles west of Deckers. It's unclear if the tire was actually flat.

Henthorn explained to investigators that as he was changing the tire his wife somehow ended up under the car, possibly looking for a lug nut, when Henthorn said the jack slipped and the car fell on her.

Henthorn told investigators he was placing something in the trunk when the jack slipped, so he didn't see exactly what happened. Sandra Lynn Henthorn was pronounced dead the next day on May 7, 1995.

In the case, the coroner ruled "that the cause of death is due to mechanical asphyxiation secondary to a vehicle slipping off the jack and falling on top of the decedent."

The Douglas County Sheriff's Department investigated the incident and after seven days, concluded Sandra Lynn Henthorn's death was accidental. However, Douglas County Sheriff's investigators have now confirmed they have reopened their 18-year-old investigation into her death.

"It warrants taking another look at," said Douglas County Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Ron Hanavan.
We reopened it based on extraordinary circumstances."

He declined to provide additional details and his office refused to release the 18-year-old case file to CBS4.

Henthorn will be held in federal custody until at least next Wednesday when he is scheduled to appear again for an arraignment and detention hearing. It's expected that his attorney will argue for Henthorn to be released on bond, but government attorneys will attempt to prove that he is a flight risk and a danger to the community.

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