Jensen guilty in sons’ deaths

She's convicted of abuse charge, acquitted of negligent homicide

Heather Jensen, center, struggles to maintain her composure after the guilty verdict in her trial on Friday. Jensen was found guilty of child abuse resulting in death and false reporting. Public defenders Thea Reiff, right, and Elsa Archambault, left, turn to comfort her. Jensen was found not guilty of the charge of criminally negligent homicide.

A happy Robert Mathena, right, and his wife Diane, center, hold hands with Heather Aspy in the hall outside the courtroom following the verdict. The Mathenas are the grandparents of Tyler and William Jensen, Heather Jensen’s two sons who died of hyperthermia near Powderhorn after being left by their mother in a running SUV with the heater turned on.

Heather Jensen’s mother, Sherry Holesapple of Fort Myers, Fla., is overcome with emotion after her daughter’s guilty verdict was read Friday at the Mesa County Justice Center.

An eight-woman, four-man jury said Heather Jensen was guilty of fatal child abuse in the deaths of young sons William and Tyler, but the same jury said she couldn’t have known they might die in her overheating Toyota 4Runner.

Arms clasped with her lawyers as Friday’s verdict was read, Jensen, 25, cried in their arms when jurors left District Judge Valerie Robison’s courtroom and after the judge announced guilty verdicts on the two most serious charges in the case: Class-3 felony child abuse resulting in death, with negligence. That’s one count each for William, 2, and Tyler, 4.

Jensen was acquitted on two lesser charges, Class-5 felony criminally negligent homicide, but convicted of misdemeanor false reporting.

Unlike the negligent homicide charge, the child abuse counts required prosecutors to prove Jensen failed to perceive a risk to the “life or health” of the boys.

She’ll be sentenced March 21 and faces 4 to 16 years for each child abuse count; a maximum 32 years for each count if Robison finds aggravating factors.

Jensen’s mother, Sherry Holesapple of Florida, declined to speak to reporters Friday, walking out of Robison’s courtroom stone-faced and locked arm-in-arm with family.

“We will be back,” a woman spectator, who was sitting next to Holesapple, angrily repeated in the courtroom.

Robert Mathena, the grandfather of William and Tyler who waged a bitter court battle to win burial rights for the boys, said there was a measure of justice and closure Friday.

“There’s always one lie over another lie, one man over another,” he said of Jensen. “It’s all about her.”

Word of a verdict spread just before noon Friday, while jurors resumed deliberations around 9 a.m. Friday. They’d started Thursday at 9 a.m. and broke around 5 p.m. with no decision.

One female juror, among 10 who spoke on the condition they would not be identified, said the panel first thing on Thursday largely agreed Jensen was guilty of the false reporting count, but adrift at first on the most serious charges in the case.

“There were a lot of people on the fence with no clear direction, and some who had a pretty good idea of what the outcome should be on both sides,” the woman said.

Panel members interviewed Friday were unable to recall the specific tallies during early voting on the most serious charges. They struggled heavily with criminally negligent homicide, a woman said.

“Because Tyler died several days later than William, did we need to look at his individual case differently than we looked at William’s?” she said, offering an example of what she described to be the jury’s difficulty with the charge.

The same woman added, “Would I have perceived a risk (of death) like that? No. Would I have done things differently? Obviously.”

Several nodded or agreed they thought Jensen was criminally negligent, but, as one panelist put it, “we don’t believe her criminal negligence caused the deaths of William and Tyler.”

When the group was asked about testimony from a psychologist presented by Jensen’s defense —  who said Jensen’s IQ was measured to be borderline developmentally disabled — nobody spoke up.

“We didn’t talk much about it,” a woman said. “The facts are she’s still capable.”

Prosecutors, who presented 20 witnesses while highlighting a series of shifting stories from Jensen, argued she should have known her boys could die by leaving them unattended in her 4Runner with the heat running on Nov. 27, 2012, while she had sex with a man. William died at the scene, while Tyler was removed from life support days later at Children’s Hospital in Aurora. Jensen’s defense argued the deaths were an accident, but not criminal, and accused prosecutors of a sideshow focused on sex, lying and infidelity.

William and Tyler’s deaths by hyperthermia were believed to be among just six recorded cases of their kind in the United States, according to testimony.

“It’s sad William and Tyler’s lives have to be remembered as a statistic instead of a farmer or lawyer, or whatever,” Mathena said. “They never had a chance. That’s the hard part.”


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