KENOSHA, Wis. – A man convicted of poisoning and suffocating his wife was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison without parole.
"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.
Mark Jensen, 48, trembled slightly as the sentence was read but did not cry. He was found guilty last week of first-degree intentional homicide, a crime that carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison. Only the decision on whether he was eligible for parole was left to the judge.
Julie Jensen, 40, was found dead in her home 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 Jensen, 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. They described him holding them after their mother died and working to support the family.
"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.
Julie Jensen's four brothers also spoke.
Patrick Griffin talked about his grief over her death and anger that Mark Jensen was able to start a successful construction business while out on bail and remarry. He described his "disgust" at hearing a witness testify that Mark Jensen tired of waiting for the poison to work and suffocated his wife.
"I hope the court shows the same compassion and mercy to the defendant that he showed to our sister Julie," he said. "So be it."
Prosecutor Robert Jambois spoke after the brothers, saying 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," he said and asked Judge Bruce Schroeder to set a parole date "so far in the future that it's not possible that it could be within Mark Jensen's lifetime."
Albee argued for parole, describing Jensen as a hardworking and law-abiding citizen who was needed by his sons.
"He's always been employed. He's been an excellent father to his children," Albee said. "Even neighbors who were extremely biased against Mr. Jensen recognized he was a loving father in all their observations."
Julie Jensen had suspected for some time that her husband of 14 years was plotting against her, so she left a note with a neighbor to be given to police if she died.
"I pray that I am wrong and nothing happens, but I am suspicious of Mark's suspicious behaviors and fear for my early demise," she wrote.
At the time, Mark Jensen was having an affair with a woman he has since married.
Until recent years, using evidence such as the letter 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. The trial judge determined last year that the letter and statements should be allowed at trial.
Albee has said there would be an appeal in the case, but he didn't know if he would handle it.
Attorneys are waiting for a decision in a California case being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in April. Legal experts say if the court overturns that conviction, it could pave the way for Mark Jensen to get a new trial.
In that case, Dwayne Giles was convicted of killing his former girlfriend, Brenda Avie. The jury heard statements that Avie made to a police officer a few weeks before her death, describing an assault by Giles and his threat to kill her.
Giles' appeal argues Avie's statements should not have been allowed because Giles' lawyer never had an opportunity to cross-examine her.