‘Justice’ for boys, DA urges
Defense: Jensen conviction would compound tragedy
In parting remarks to the jury, Assistant District Attorney Rich Tuttle talked about those little “big boys in terms of potential,” their hearts beating faster to the point of exhaustion and growing thirst in a struggle for their lives while strapped in car seats Nov. 27, 2012, near Powderhorn.
Earlier, he held up an evidence-sealed bag with a “Peanuts” T-shirt worn by 2-year-old William Jensen, along with a “Thomas the Train” long-sleeve shirt worn by his brother, Tyler, 4.
Their mother hadn’t brought jackets on the night in question, so “no wonder she had to crank the heat up,” the prosecutor told the jury.
In her actions that day, Tuttle said 25-year-old Heather Jensen didn’t value her children.
“We’re asking you to value them, to honor their lives and give them justice,” Tuttle told the jury during closing statements Wednesday in Jensen’s trial.
Jensen’s parenting skills and life choices aren’t on trial, her defense countered.
“You may hold her responsible for these deaths, but that’s not the standard for criminal negligence,” Public Defender Thea Reiff later replied. “The guilt is something that Ms. Jensen will live with for the rest of her life. Don’t compound this tragedy with an unfounded conviction.”
The final jury panel in Jensen’s trial, which comprises eight women and four men, will start deliberations around 9 a.m. today on two counts of criminally negligent homicide, two counts of child abuse resulting in death with negligence, and false reporting. The panel, who heard from 20 prosecution witnesses and a psychologist called by Jensen’s defense, received the case just before 5 p.m. Wednesday and opted to not deliberate into the evening.
Suffering hyperthermia, or overheating, William died the night of Nov. 27, 2012, while Tyler was removed from life support Dec. 3, 2012, at Children’s Hospital in Aurora.
Tuttle on Wednesday repeatedly said Jensen’s perception of risk — a key aspect in proving criminal negligence under Colorado law — is shown in her video-recorded interview with investigator Jim Hebenstreit on the night of the incident. During the interview, she acknowledges placing the heating fan on “medium-high,” which wasn’t too hot, “to, like, roast or anything.”
Jensen adds about her Toyota 4Runner, “It gets really hot, which is a good thing.”
“These kids were exposed to too much heat in a car and the defendant knew her car got too hot,” Tuttle told the jury, later adding, “Aren’t parents held to a higher standard when young children are involved?”
Reiff discounted the “roast” observation, arguing it shouldn’t be interpreted as intimate knowledge of the 4Runner’s heater.
“They’re telling you it was totally foreseeable risk, when it wasn’t even foreseeable to Dr. (Rob) Kurtzman,” Reiff said.
Kurtzman, the longtime Mesa County forensic pathologist, testified Tuesday circumstances surrounding the deaths of William and Tyler were “very unusual, extraordinary,” and among only six documented cases of their kind in the United States.
Tuttle and Reiff on Wednesday clashed on a critical timeline for Nov. 27, 2012. The prosecution argued the boys could have been exposed to heat for around 90 minutes, while Jensen herself acknowledged that possibility after initially insisting time frames were much shorter. Between interviews with law enforcement and testimony given Monday, the one at-scene witness in the case, Colten Childers of Collbran, gave differing recollections about when Jensen turned on the engine to her 4Runner and started the heat.
Jensen received a text message from her boyfriend, Peter Stein-Gillette, at 4:47 p.m., which wasn’t replied to by Jensen until 6:24 p.m. Tuttle suggested Jensen was too “preoccupied by Colten Childers” to respond to the text, underscoring the prosecution’s longer timeline. Jensen eventually said she had sex with Childers for “five minutes” in his truck.
Childers, Reiff reminded jurors, wasn’t charged criminally for his role and acknowledged Monday telling multiple stories to law enforcement early on in the investigation.
“You don’t have to be a mother to be held criminally culpable,” Reiff told the jury.
The defense’s lone witness in the case, Dr. John Gustavson, testified about conducting an IQ examination of Jensen last summer at the Mesa County Jail. Among a host of results, Jensen was shown to have “below average” cognitive abilities of a normal person, but the doctor also testified Jensen has “common sense” and things like regulating heat inside a vehicle weren’t beyond her function.
Gustavson also noted several “striking” things from his evaluation of Jensen in July at the jail. When his technician entered the room for the tests, Gustavson said Jensen asked to “hold her hand.”
“She said things like, ‘I miss Florida,’ or, ‘I like school’ ... just things that had nothing to do with the test we were doing,” he said.
She also said she aspired to go to college and be a grief counselor, the doctor testified.
What struck him about all that?
“Cluelessness,” Gustavson replied.
Follow Paul Shockley on Twitter @PaulShockleyGJ. Use hashtag #jensentrial.