MILWAUKEE – About two weeks before her death, Julie C. Jensen went to a neighbor, shaking and crying, and handed over a sealed envelope. If anything happened to her, she said, he should give it to police. She wrote that she felt her husband never forgave her for a brief affair she had seven years earlier, and that she had seen him visit Internet sites about poisoning.
"I pray I'm wrong + nothing happens ... but I am suspicious of Mark's suspicious behaviors + fear for my demise," the 40-year-old woman allegedly wrote in the letter dated Nov. 21, 1998.
More than seven years after the southern Wisconsin woman died from poisoning, the state Supreme Court is considering whether to allow her statements as evidence in her husband's murder trial.
Jensen was found dead Dec. 3, 1998, in her bed in her Pleasant Prairie home about 40 miles south of Milwaukee. An autopsy revealed she died from at least two doses of ethylene glycol, commonly used as antifreeze.
Toxicology tests led to a first-degree intentional homicide charge against her 46-year-old husband, Mark, in 2002. His defense lawyer has claimed she committed suicide.
In addition to the letter she gave to the neighbor, Julie Jensen allegedly told her son's teacher that she had found a suspicious list of drugs and syringes her husband wanted to buy and feared her husband planned to poison her.
She told the teacher she thought "he might try to kill her with a drug overdose and make it look like a suicide," a criminal complaint said. She also left voice mails for police and told them in person of the lists, and warned them if she died, her husband was responsible, court records said.
After her death, the neighbor gave the envelope to police. Julie Jensen had included photographs of some of the suspicious lists and wrote she would never take her own life because of her love for her children.
A forensic toxicologist found no trace of ethylene glycol in the house, the complaint said. She would have been too weak to hide the chemical after drinking the last dose, it said.
The day before the death, the defendant went to an Internet site that, among other things, describes the stages and effects of antifreeze poisoning, the complaint said.
Mark Jensen was later ordered to stand trial.
But in March 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled a 1980 case that laid out complex rules for when statements can be used without the opportunity for cross-examination. The court said the case complicated a fairly straightforward part of the Constitution, which guarantees a criminal defendant the right to confront his accusers.
The trial judge then ruled that the letter and voice mails were inadmissible, but the testimony of the neighbor and teacher could be allowed.
Both sides appealed and the attorney general asked the state Supreme Court to hear the case.
The victim's brother, Paul Griffin, said the letter given to the neighbor is a critical part of the case. "I can't understand laws that would be written to not allow something like that to be admitted as evidence," he said in a recent phone interview.
Mark Jensen's attorney Craig Albee wouldn't comment: "Because it's a pending case, I don't have much to say about it." A phone number listed for Mark Jensen, who is free after posting bond and has remarried, was disconnected last week. Albee said Jensen wasn't giving interviews.
Special prosecutor Robert Jambois also wouldn't comment on the case, which relies heavily on Julie Jensen's words.
The state Supreme Court could decide by June if any of the statements can be included in the trial, which has been postponed because of the appeals.
It is a delay that has increasingly frustrated Julie Jensen's family. "It's past the point of being ridiculous," said Paul Griffin. "It's just hard to believe it's taken so long."