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Wisconsin man gets life for poisoning wife

A man who was convicted of poisoning and suffocating his wife was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison without parole.
Image: Julie C. Jensen and her husband, Mark D. Jensen
This file photo provided by the family shows Mark and Julie Jensen. AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A man who was convicted of poisoning and suffocating his wife was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison without parole. Before she was killed, his wife had written a letter foreshadowing that her death might be suspicious.

Mark Jensen, 48, was found guilty last week of first-degree intentional homicide, a crime that carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison. The decision on whether he was eligible for parole was left to the judge.

"I've come to the conclusion that if I imposed anything less than the maximum sentence, I would have cheated the other people because your crime is so enormous, so cruel," Judge Bruce Schroeder said.

Jensen trembled slightly as the sentence was read but did not cry.

Julie Jensen, 40, was found dead in her home in Pleasant Prairie on Dec. 3, 1998, after being sick for a few days. Prosecutors said she was poisoned with antifreeze and then suffocated.

Mark Jensen claimed his wife was depressed and killed herself, framing him for her death.

The couple's sons, David and Douglas, submitted a letter before the sentencing, expressing their belief that Mark Jensen was innocent and asking the judge to give him parole as soon as possible.

"If we ever need help, advice or just someone to talk to, we know we can go to him for anything," said the letter read by Jensen's attorney, Craig Albee. The lawyer argued for parole, describing Jensen as a hardworking and law-abiding citizen who was needed by his sons.

Prosecutor Robert Jambois said Mark Jensen had tormented his wife with pornographic pictures and accusations of infidelity, and then moved his own girlfriend into his house before his wife's wake.

"Mark Jensen treated his wife the way some demented people torture small animals or pick the wings off flies," Jambois said.

Julie Jensen had suspected for some time that her husband of 14 years was plotting against her, she left a letter with a neighbor to give to police in the event of her death. Jurors cited it as a key piece of evidence in their decision to convict Jensen.

"I pray that I am wrong and nothing happens, but I am suspicious of Mark's suspicious behaviors and fear for my early demise," Julie Jensen wrote in the letter. She said she refused to leave because of their two young sons.

The letter could affect any appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a California case with similar elements in April. Legal experts say if the court overturns that conviction, it could pave the way for Mark Jensen to get a new trial.

"It would surprise me if he didn't get a new trial based on that," said Phillip A. Koss, a University of Wisconsin-Madison adjunct professor and Walworth County district attorney.

Until recently, using such evidence in court was virtually unheard of because of constitutional guarantees giving criminal defendants the right to confront their accusers.

But the Wisconsin Supreme Court created new evidence rules, guided by a U.S. Supreme Court decision that laid the groundwork for the use of Julie Jensen's letter and statements to police.