By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - The murder trial of a Colorado man accused of shoving his wife off a cliff in a national park for insurance money began in U.S. federal court on Tuesday, with prosecutors saying he also may have killed his first wife.
Harold Henthorn, 59, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Toni Henthorn, who plummeted 120 feet (37 meters) in September 2012 in Rocky Mountain National Park, about 65 miles (105 km) northwest of Denver.
Federal prosecutors say he killed his 50-year-old wife to reap $4.5 million in life insurance proceeds, and that he is suspected of killing his first wife for the same reason 20 years ago. He has not been charged in that case, which remains an open investigation.
Opening statements and testimony got underway on Tuesday and the trial is expected to last two weeks, said Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for U.S. Attorney John Walsh.
If convicted, Henthorn faces a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole, and a maximum $250,000 fine.
According to court documents, the couple were hiking in the Deer Mountain area of the park when Toni Henthorn, a Denver-area ophthalmologist, fell to her death.
The National Park Service said at the time that her body was found about three miles (5 km) off a trailhead in steep, rugged terrain.
When the couple's vehicle was searched, police said they found a map inside with an "X" marking the spot where Toni Henthorn plunged to her death.
When confronted, Harold Henthorn told investigators he was "at a loss of words" to explain the map's existence, an arrest warrant affidavit said.
Following Henthorn's federal indictment last November, authorities re-opened a probe into the 1995 death of his first wife, Sandra Lynn Henthorn, who died when she was crushed by the couple's vehicle in a remote area south of Denver. Harold Henthorn told police she was under the car changing a tire when the vehicle slipped off its jack, killing her.
The death was ruled an accident at the time, and her husband collected a $496,000 life insurance policy, authorities said.
A spokeswoman for the Douglas County Sheriff's Office said last year that the 1995 case is an "open and active investigation."
Harold Henthorn was the only witness to both women's deaths, prosecutors said.
Over the objection of Harold Henthorn's lawyers, U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson let prosecutors present evidence of Sandra Henthorn's suspicious death at the federal murder trial.
(Reporting by Keith Coffmam; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Will Dunham)