Mom pleads not guilty in sons’ deaths
An anticipated wave of jury duty summonses for the trial of Palisade mother Heather Jensen may be among the largest culls in Mesa County history for a single case.
Some 500 summonses for jury duty were mailed for the 2004 trial of convicted murderer Michael Blagg, according to Mesa County Jury Commissioner Rose Anne Kelley.
“I can easily see (Jensen’s) case being in that neighborhood,” Kelley said Thursday.
The judge presiding in a criminal case ultimately decides how many summonses go out, she noted. In Jensen’s case, summonses should start hitting local mailboxes by early October, Kelley said.
Jensen, 25, pleaded not guilty Thursday to a host of charges in connection with the deaths of her young sons last year, while District Judge Valerie Robison scheduled a trial for two weeks starting Oct. 28. The deadline for a plea agreement in the case is Oct. 15.
Attorneys on both sides said Jensen had been considering a plea offer extended by the District Attorney’s Office. It’s unlikely the plea offer — terms were never confirmed by the prosecution — was still valid after Thursday’s not-guilty plea.
Jensen is charged with two counts of child abuse resulting in death; two counts of criminally negligent homicide; and one count of false reporting to authorities, stemming from the deaths of her sons, William, 2, and Tyler, 4. The boys died as a result of overheating in their mother’s Toyota 4Runner after they were left alone in the vehicle on the night of Nov. 27, 2012, on Grand Mesa, as their mother allegedly had sex with a man in another vehicle nearby.
Clifton resident Robert Mathena, the grandfather of William and Tyler, said he was surprised at Jensen’s decision but also pleased. She’s raised the stakes if she’s convicted, he said. Mathena said he knew the terms of the district attorney’s rejected plea offer, but declined to discuss it.
“Going to trial, she’s got a chance for a lot more (prison) time,” Mathena said. “It’s all good.”
Deputy Public Defender Thea Reiff, Jensen’s attorney, asked the judge Thursday to prepare questionnaires for the jury pool in Jensen’s case. The tool is used by Colorado courts to identify biased jurors before jury selection.
Mathena said his family has had no other instances of suspected contact by Jensen since a birthday card was found late April on the graves of William, Tyler, and the boys’ father, Eric, at Palisade Municipal Cemetery.
The Mathenas have speculated the card, which was turned over to sheriff’s investigators, was written by Jensen in jail and delivered to the cemetery through a third party.
“We go out and check it every other day now,” Robert Mathena said.