The tragic death of Julie Jensen occurred almost a quarter-century ago in her Wisconsin bedroom, a victim of poisoning by ethylene glycol, a toxic component commonly found in antifreeze. The quest for justice in her murder, allegedly at the hands of her spouse of 14 years, proved to be a protracted and tumultuous journey, marked by legal battles, two trials, and one overturned conviction. Earlier this year, Mark Jensen was once again sentenced to life in prison for Julie’s killing.
The call to 911
In their Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin residence, situated just south of Kenosha, Mark Jensen, 63, dialed 911 to report the discovery of his wife Julie’s lifeless body in their bedroom. She was found in bed, under the covers, attired in a T-shirt and underwear, without any apparent signs of injury. Initially, a deputy medical examiner at the scene leaned toward natural causes as the cause of death. However, the Kenosha County district attorney at the time, Bob Jambois, detected various unsettling details that raised suspicion. Julie’s positioning in bed appeared unnatural, suggesting that she may have been moved, and despite her severe illness and complaints of breathing problems, Mark had left her alone on that fateful day.
Additionally, law enforcement briefed Jambois on a disturbing revelation: Julie had been the target of a relentless and anonymous stalker for years, enduring harassing phone calls and an onslaught of explicit photos. Julie believed her harasser might be a man with whom she had a brief affair. Authorities held their own suspicions about the identity of the perpetrator, but it would be years before they could present concrete evidence in a courtroom.
A critical clue revealed regarding Julie Jensen
Meanwhile, Jambois stumbled upon a critical clue while constructing his case—a letter from Julie that seemed to foretell her untimely demise. Addressed to the local police department, it included a photograph of a troubling list she had discovered in her husband’s planner. In discussions with a prosecutor, Julie Jensen expressed fear that her husband was using the list to depict her as mentally unstable, providing a motive for her potential murder. Just days before Julie’s death in late November, she enclosed the letter and evidence inside an envelope, entrusting it to a neighbor. In the letter, she stated her concerns about her husband’s suspicious behavior, the possibility of her “early demise,” and her fervent hope that she was wrong. She also mentioned her deep love for her children and her aversion to taking her own life.
When questioned about the letter, Mark told a detective that Julie Jensen was “off the wall” and that he was concerned she might harm herself. The detective pressed for information on how she had stopped breathing, to which Mark responded, “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.”
March 19, 2002: Mark Jensen Charged with First-Degree Intentional Homicide
The decision to charge Mark with first-degree intentional homicide took several years to materialize, as suicide had not been ruled out as a potential cause of death. The small quantity of ethylene glycol in Julie’s system had delayed the discovery of the poison. Most cases linked to this chemical were suicides. Moreover, Julie Jensen had been prescribed antidepressants two days before her death, indicating her unhappiness with her failing marriage. Jambois emphasized that he never believed Julie took her own life but was aware that the defense could argue suicide.
The medical examiner eventually classified her death as a homicide, citing both ethylene glycol poisoning and asphyxiation. Prosecutors claimed that Mark panicked when the poison failed to kill Julie and, as her breathing improved, he forcibly smothered her by pushing her face into a pillow. Another piece of evidence supporting this theory was the internet search, conducted at 9:42 a.m. on the morning of Julie’s death, for information on diminished consciousness resulting from ethylene glycol poisoning. Both searches were later deleted.
During an interview with the police, Mark asserted that Julie Jensen was too sick to move on the morning of her death and could not have been browsing the internet to track her ethylene glycol poisoning symptoms.
The existence of the letter posed a challenge for prosecutors. In criminal cases, the Sixth Amendment ensures the accused’s right to confront their accusers. In this case, the witness, Julie, was deceased. Prosecutor Angelina Gabriele was apprehensive about the letter’s admissibility and its potential for an appeal. Nevertheless, Jambois saw the letter as a crucial piece of evidence allowing the jurors to hear Julie’s voice. Ultimately, a judge admitted the document, sparking a legal battle that spanned more than a decade.
Dec. 18, 2013: Federal Judge Overturns Conviction
Nearly six years after a six-week trial and over 30 hours of deliberation, a U.S. District judge in Wisconsin’s Eastern District made a decision. The jury had previously found Mark guilty of his wife’s murder, resulting in a life sentence. In addition to the jailhouse informant, the letter, and the computer searches, prosecutors had accumulated other evidence, including testimony from a former colleague of Mark’s who recounted a disturbing conversation about poisoning a spouse. However, federal Judge William Griesbach deemed the letter as the linchpin of the prosecution’s case. He ruled in 2013 that the document should not have been admissible, as it violated Mark’s constitutional rights and had a “substantial and injurious” effect on the jury’s verdict.
Gabriele found the decision disheartening, emphasizing the abundance of evidence pointing to Mark’s guilt and the rigorous legal process they had followed. Despite the setback, the prosecutors remained resolute in their quest for justice.
Feb. 1, 2023: Mark Jensen Is Convicted—Again
After years of delays, Mark’s second trial began on January 9. This time, prosecutors chose not to present Julie’s letter as evidence. Instead, with the assistance of a Department of Justice computer analyst, they uncovered new evidence implicating Mark as Julie’s long-time harasser.
In an external computer drive, they discovered a fraudulent email replete with explicit attachments, which Mark had sent to himself while altering the sender’s name to make it seem as if it came from someone else. Mark presented this email as proof of harassment to Julie, who noted it in her catalog of distressing events. But perhaps the most damning evidence was something the prosecution had possessed since the beginning: the computer searches from the morning of Julie’s death.
When the jury delivered a guilty verdict nearly a month later, Jambois felt significantly more confident than he had during the first trial, which had been clouded by the legal issues surrounding the letter. He asserted that this time, they had conducted a fair trial and that he was absolutely certain that the case would withstand appellate scrutiny.