Prosecutors: Sex, lies, videotape
Heather Jensen was mostly absent from the bedside of her critically injured son, got involved with another man more than a month before her husband was killed in a car crash, cast suspicion on others for the events of Nov. 27, 2012, and lied repeatedly about that day, prosecution witnesses testified Monday.
And in a video recorded statement to law enforcement, Jensen expressed familiarity with the heating system in her Toyota 4Runner. On the night in question, she said she set the heating on “medium high,” which wasn’t too high “to, like, roast or anything.”
She said she was trying to keep her sons warm with daylight dwindling and temperatures falling near Powderhorn Mountain Resort, following an afternoon playing in the snow with her sons that prosecutors suggest never happened.
“It gets really hot, which is a good thing,” Jensen’s seen on video telling Mesa County sheriff’s investigator Jim Hebenstreit, in reference to her vehicle’s heating system.
Deputy District Attorney Danielle Lewis first raised the “roast” comment during opening statements in Jensen’s trial last week.
Prosecutors have alleged Jensen, 25, was criminally negligent and failed to perceive a substantial risk when she left William, 2, and Tyler, 4, unattended on the night of Nov. 27, 2012, near Powderhorn, for as long as 90 minutes in a heating vehicle while having sex with a man she barely knew.
Collbran resident Colten Childers had met Jensen at a friend’s house in Palisade and had been around her “three times” prior to Nov. 27, 2012. Speaking in a low, barely audible voice and chewing gum for half of his testimony on Monday, Childers testified that he and Jensen exchanged text “small talk” messages off and on for days leading up to Nov. 27, 2012.
Childers said he knew Jensen’s husband, Eric, 26, had died in a crash Oct. 10 that year, but testified he wasn’t aware at the time Jensen had a boyfriend, Peter Stein-Gillette.
Stein-Gillette later testified he moved into Jensen’s Palisade apartment “a couple days” after Eric Jensen’s death on Oct. 10, 2012.
It was Heather Jensen who suggested in a text message on the morning of Nov. 27, 2012, that they meet and said she wanted to take a drive, Childers said.
Childers testified they did that around 4:30 p.m. Parked near Powderhorn, Childers said Jensen introduced her boys to him, both of them strapped in car seats in the back of her 4Runner. Childers testified the boys never left their car seats, despite multiple statements otherwise by Jensen to law enforcement about the children playing in the snow for a period of time.
Childers said he and Jensen talked outside and smoked for a period of time before they hopped in his Ford pickup, parked parallel to Jensen’s SUV. After 15 minutes, they turned the heat on “just a couple clicks” in the Ford.
With daylight fading, around 5:40 p.m., Childers testified Jensen got out and turned on the engine to her 4Runner. Later, after seeing one of the doors open on Jensen’s SUV, Jensen got out and later told Childers she’d given Tyler her cellphone to play with, engaged the child-proof lock and shut the door. Records later showed Internet activity on Jensen’s cellphone around 5:43 p.m.
Childers testified they climbed in the back seat, “kissing and making out,” removed their clothes and had sexual intercourse. That took 15 to 20 minutes, he estimated.
“Could it have been shorter? Assistant District Attorney Rich Tuttle asked.
“Yeah,” Childers replied.
In her recorded interview with investigators, Jensen observed “it lasted five minutes. He didn’t finish.”
Driving away, Childers came upon Jensen’s SUV down the road, tending to her fatally injured children. Tyler was “cold to touch” despite being in a vehicle with the heater running, his eyes barely open and laboring to breath, he said.
Childers said Jensen told him to leave the Powderhorn area before emergency responders arrived. Jensen later told investigators she initially lied about what happened to protect her relationship with Stein-Gillette.
Childers acknowledged Monday initially lying to authorities on several details, but he avoided prosecution for false reporting.
Responding to several questions from the jury, he said he never asked about William and Tyler when he was with their mother.
When asked if he thought about the boys being in the car alone, he replied flatly, “no.”
“Did Ms. Jensen ever seem concerned about the boys in the truck?” a juror asked.
“No, not really,” he said.
Childers, upon questioning by the defense, said Jensen at times turned to look out the tinted windows of his pickup, toward her 4Runner with its engine running.
Stein-Gillette testified Monday he and Jensen were in an intimate relationship by late August or early September 2012.
Previously ruling that any testimony about infidelity in Jensen’s marriage to be off-limits and not admissible for the jury, District Judge Valerie Robison on Monday reversed herself after Tuttle argued a defense attorney had “opened the door” during opening statements.
In what Tuttle pegged as an appeal for sympathy, Public Defender Elsa Archambault told the jury in opening arguments that Jensen was “alone” after her husband’s October 2012 death and sought out male companionship.
“That’s a blatant attempt to do an end-run around this court’s order and casts Ms. Jensen as a grieving widow when her children are dying,” Tuttle told the judge.
Public Defender Thea Reiff accused prosecutors of creating a “sideshow.”
“This has nothing to do with the issues at the heart of this case,” she said.
The defense, ironically, successfully argued in a motion before the trial that testimony about infidelity should be prohibited.
In her recorded interview with law enforcement, Jensen suggests carbon monoxide poisoning may be to blame for what happened to the boys.
“Every once in a while, I’ll have a headache driving in that truck,” Jensen tells Hebenstreit at one point.
Another witness, Treasa Marriott, a former friend of Jensen’s, testified about getting a phone call from Jensen on the night of Nov. 27, 2012, and hearing more pointed concerns.
“She said she had a feeling that Johnny Jensen had messed with the car,” Marriott told the jury. Johnny Jensen was Eric Jensen’s brother.
Heather Jensen’s behavior at Children’s Hospital in Aurora also came under scrutiny in Monday’s testimony.
Marriott and Stein-Gillette testified Jensen wasn’t spending a lot of time with her hospitalized son, Tyler, who died at Children’s Hospital on Dec. 3, 2012, after being removed from life support. Marriott testified when a nurse asked Jensen if they were ready to disconnect life support, Jensen responded she “wanted to go smoke first.”