Jurors deliberating in a murder trial on an African safari
A lawyer for a wealthy dentist accused of shooting his wife in the heart with a shotgun at the end of an African safari to be with his longtime girlfriend urged jurors on Friday to throw out what he called it a government case based on gossip and innuendo and acquitted him.
Lawyer for Lawrence ‘Larry’ Rudolph, David Markus, says there was ‘a lot of noise’ during the three-week trial over the 67-year-old defendant’s business of cash payments to his girlfriend friend and if the funeral he had arranged for his wife was nice enough. But he said federal prosecutors have failed to prove that Bianca Rudolph, his client’s wife of 34 years and a nervous traveler, did not accidentally kill herself.
Bianca Rudolph died after being shot by their Browning shotgun in their cabin as she was hastily packing on the morning of October 2016 when they were supposed to leave Zambia and begin their journey back to the United States.
The attorneys presented their final arguments Friday in federal court in Denver before handing the case over to a jury of six women and six men. The jurors did not render a verdict at the end of the day and will resume deliberations on Monday.
Rudolph is charged with murder and mail fraud in what prosecutors describe as a premeditated crime. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison or the death penalty if convicted of murder.
Markus acknowledged that Rudolph, a big game hunter and former head of an international safari club who testified he had an open marriage with his wife, may not have been sympathetic, but he said that he was still innocent.
“Give Dr. Rudolph the benefit of the doubt the law demands. He didn’t do that,” Markus said in his closing arguments.
But prosecutors said the facts of the case removed any doubts about Rudolph’s guilt, including that the shot struck Bianca’s heart at an angle that indicated the gun was slightly above and to about 2 to 3.5 feet (1 meter) from her. The fatal blow could not have been caused by her accidentally dropping the gun, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Fields told jurors.
Rudolph filed for life insurance the day before his wife’s funeral, flew to Las Vegas with another woman the day after the funeral, and his girlfriend, Lori Milliron, moved in with him at the end of the month. said Assistant U.S. Attorney Garreth Winstead.
Fields said Rudolph killed his wife to be with Milliron, a longtime employee of his Pennsylvania dental franchise, and regain control of his life and finances after Bianca Rudolph began demanding more votes in the couple’s finances and pressuring her husband to fire Milliron. Milliron was tried alongside Rudolph for lying to a grand jury and being an accessory after the fact.
Milliron’s attorney, John Dill, suggested she was the victim of leading questions from investigators and the grand jury. He told jurors on Friday that the case against his client looked like “clickbait” news reporting with no substance to back up the appealing headline. Dill said investigators tried to “trip” her and use her answers against her later, he said.
Rudolph was worth over $15 million when his wife died and Markus maintained he had no financial motive for the murder. Investigators for insurers who later paid $4.8 million for Bianca Rudolph’s death concluded that her death was an accident.
A bartender at a steakhouse in Phoenix, where Milliron moved to be with Rudolph after Bianca died, said he heard Rudolph say “I killed my fucking wife for you!” during an argument they had in early 2020. However, Brian Lovelace said he couldn’t hear the words right before this statement because the music was playing. Rudolph said he actually said, “Now they say I killed my f– -g wife for you! after learning the FBI was investigating him.
Prosecutors pointed out that Rudolph filed a defamation suit that officials from Safari Club International falsely accused him of adultery and lying about his business when questioned by lawyers. During his murder trial, Rudolph admitted that he lied during that trial, but said he was now telling the truth. Fields told jurors not to believe Rudolph, saying he had nothing to lose by lying about his wife’s murder.
During the trial, the Rudolphs’ longtime hunting guide Mark Swanepoel testified that mistakes can always happen with guns, saying, “The devil loads the shotgun.”
While Fields accused Rudolph of crying “crocodile tears” on the stand, after saying Rudolph shot and killed his wife, Fields pointed out that Swanepoel rushed over to find Rudolph sobbing. Fields said Rudolph recognized the seriousness of what he had done.
“The devil loads the shotgun, but it’s the demons that haunt the man who wields it,” Fields said.
After the closing arguments, Rudolph watched as his two adult children, Anabianca and Julian Rudolph, sat in the courtroom gallery to support him, and made the sign of the cross before being ushered through a side door by authorities. Outside in the hallway, they spoke quietly with relatives of their mother, including her brothers, who sit on the prosecution side of the court.