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Mark Jensen re-trial: Day one of new jury trial begins

Prosecutors allege that Mark Jensen poisoned and killed his wife, Julie Jensen, with antifreeze in December 1998. He had his 2008 murder conviction against him vacated.
Mark Jensen
Posted at 8:44 AM, Jan 11, 2023

KENOSHA, Wis. — Wednesday marks day one of the jury trial for Mark Jensen, a Pleasant Prairie man who had a murder conviction against him vacated.

Prosecutors and attorneys for Jensen, who is accused of killing his wife, Julie Jensen, with antifreeze in 1998, delivered opening statements Wednesday in his retrial, nearly two years after a judge vacated his previous conviction.

Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Carli McNeill told the jury during her opening statements that prosecutors would present evidence “that the defendant murdered his wife with ethylene glycol, that this was not Julie Jensen ingesting that substance to commit suicide."

“She lived for her kids, and she died because the defendant murdered her," McNeill said.

Jensen’s defense attorneys said Julie Jensen’s infidelity and depression strained the couple's marriage and led her to take her own life.

“What brings us here today is Julie Jensen’s suicide,” said Mackenzie Renner, Mark Jensen's attorney. “The suicide of a woman who was in declining mental health.”

Jurors began hearing testimony from witnesses after Wednesday's opening statements.

The state called several witnesses, both friends and acquaintances of Julie Jensen. Ruth Vorwald, a friend and neighbor, recounted meeting Jensen the day Julie died.

"What was weird is — I’m literally devastated," said Vorwald. "He [Mark] talked like it was just a conversation. Just no feeling. No emotion. Just kind of a matter of fact. What he said to me kind of sounded rehearsed."

On cross-examination, the defense pushed back against Vorwald's testimony.

"You weren't in the home immediately after Mr. Jensen found Mrs. Jensen?" asked Bridget Krause, defense attorney.

"No," said Vorwald. She also said she didn't know how Mark Jensen reacted after he found his wife dead.

Jensen's trial is expected to last four to five weeks.

Live updates from the courtroom:

11:15 a.m. update:

The defense wrapped up its opening statements. Attorney Mackenzie Renner laid out this argument: Julie Jensen was depressed and suicidal. Julie Jensen, Renner says, was not computer illiterate as the state indicates. And Mark Jensen, while not perfect, is not a murderer. Judge now moving on to the evidence.

10:30 a.m. update:

The state wrapped its opening statments after about 90 minutes.

They painted a picture of a man who never got over his wife's affair and spent years harassing her before killing her. Attorney Carli McNeill shared this screen grab, retrieved by analysts, from Jensen's home computer day of Julie's death.

FmNF31cWYAEH_f9.jfif

Case background:

Mark Jensen, 63, was convicted in 2008 of killing his wife, Julie Jensen, at their home in the Kenosha County village of Pleasant Prairie and was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

But a Kenosha County judge vacated his conviction in April 2021 after the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that Jensen deserved a new trial. The court found that a letter his wife wrote incriminating him in the event something should happen to her could not be used by the prosecution.

Prosecutors allege that he began poisoning his wife with antifreeze in December 1998, drugged her with sleeping medication, and later suffocated her to death over a three-day period.

Jensen has maintained his innocence, with his attorneys arguing that Julie Jensen was depressed and killed herself after framing her husband.

Criminal Defense Attorney Patrick Cafferty closely followed the case. He explains that under the U.S. Constitution, a defendant has the right to question an accuser, which is impossible if the accuser is testifying with a letter and essentially "from the grave."

Still, even without the letter, Cafferty believes the defense has a tough road ahead considering the circumstantial evidence presented by the prosecution.

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