Judge refuses to transfer overseas murder trial out of Colorado, says venue is appropriate | Content reserved for subscribers
A federal judge has dismissed a story by a man accused of murdering his wife on an African safari that US prosecutors improperly charged the defendant in Colorado as part of a scheme to evade a 232 year old law.
Lawrence Rudolph’s trial, set to begin July 11, will remain in Colorado despite the defense’s attempt to transfer or dismiss the foreign murder charge against him. A grand jury recently indicted Rudolph for allegedly killing his wife, Bianca Rudolph, around October 11, 2016 while they were on safari in Zambia. He also faces a mail fraud charge for allegedly misrepresenting Bianca’s cause of death to obtain $4.9 million in life insurance claims.
The fraud charge stemmed from insurance documents mailed to an address in Englewood. Authorities in Mexico, where Rudolph was vacationing, detained and deported Rudolph in late December 2021, and law enforcement arrested him at Denver International Airport.
Rudolph challenged the federal government’s authority to charge him with murder abroad in Colorado, pointing to a law originally enacted in 1790 that requires trials for crimes committed outside the country or on the “high seas” take place wherever an accused has been arrested or “first brought.” Because “a commercial airline that landed in Atlanta, Georgia” first brought Rudolph to the United States after his alleged murder overseas, the Northern District of Georgia was the appropriate location for his trial, he argued.
United States District Court Judge William J. Martínez rejected this line of thinking.
“Insofar as Congress wanted to clarify that the phrase ‘first brought in’ means the place where an offender first arrives of his own free will after allegedly committing his crime, he could have done so. It does not didn’t,” Martínez wrote. in an April 26 order.
The defense had accused prosecutors of “picking cherries” in Colorado as a place to indict Rudolph for murder abroad. His lawyers noted that authorities could have arrested Rudolph in Arizona, where he lived, but waited until he was out of the country to seek his extradition to Colorado. These tactics would have violated the 1790 law which only allowed trials when a defendant was arrested, “brought in first” or, as the law now sayslast resided.
The law “reflects the founding fathers’ firm belief that giving prosecutors choice of venue is inherently unfair,” Rudolph’s attorneys wrote.
In arguing their case for a venue change, the defense referenced an 1832 appeal decision of Massachusetts involving a revolt on the high seas. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story noted that the 1790 law providing for alternate trial locations was intended for “general convenience”. A vessel may have to seek sanctuary away from its home port due to weather conditions or the accused may escape to another jurisdiction, making flexibility necessary when prosecuting crimes committed outside the United States. United, wrote Story.
Because Rudolph was arrested in Mexico, the defense argued, his place of trial had to be where he was first brought after committing his crime: Georgia.
The government criticized this interpretation of the law and tried to justify Colorado as the location of the trial. First, Mexico only deported Rudolph, which means he was arrested in Denver. Second, the 1790 law requiring defendants to be tried where they are first brought only applies when there are criminal charges against them.
“His flight to Atlanta immediately after he murdered his wife is irrelevant because no authority brought him to Atlanta under duress in connection with the murder,” the US Attorney’s Office in Colorado wrote.
Martínez agreed with the government that Colorado was where Rudolph was first brought in connection with the criminal charges. The 1790 Act and its subsequent amendments gave prosecutors options to try crimes committed outside the United States and, in Rudolph’s case, “the government simply exercised that choice,” the judge wrote.
He also refused to dismiss the foreign murder charge because, according to Rudolph, it did not allege enough facts to establish Colorado as the proper place for trial. Martínez instead found that the prosecution correctly listed the key elements of the offense and sufficiently briefed Rudolph on the allegations.
Martínez previously denied Rudolph’s request to be detained, effectively, a private home prison trial pending.
The case is United States v. Rudolph et al.