By Faith Karimi, CNN
An American dentist and big-game hunter was found guilty of murder in the shooting death of his wife on an African safari.
Lawrence Rudolph, 67, killed his wife, Bianca Rudolph, with a shotgun and defrauded multiple insurance companies, a federal jury found Monday. Rudolph cashed in more than $4.8 million in life insurance payments after her death almost six years ago.
Rudolph has maintained his innocence and said he believes the gun fired accidentally.
“I did not kill my wife. I could not murder my wife. I would not murder my wife,” Rudolph told jurors when he took the stand in his own defense at a federal trial in Denver last week.
The Phoenix couple shared a passion for big-game hunting, and had traveled to the southern African nation of Zambia in September 2016 so Bianca Rudolph could add a leopard to her collection of animal trophies. They carried two guns for the hunt: a Remington .375 rifle and a Browning 12-gauge shotgun.
Two weeks later, as Bianca Rudolph was packing for the couple’s return home, she suffered a fatal blast from the Browning shotgun in their hunting cabin at Kafue National Park. Rudolph told investigators he heard the shot at dawn while he was in the bathroom and believed the shotgun accidentally went off as she was putting it in its case, court documents said. He told investigators he found her bleeding on the floor.
But federal prosecutors at Rudolph’s trial in Denver, where the insurance companies are based, described it as a premeditated crime. Prosecutors argued Rudolph killed his wife of 30 years for insurance money and to be with his girlfriend.
“Bianca Rudolph deserved justice,” US Attorney Cole Finegan said in a statement after the jury’s ruling. “We can only hope this verdict brings Bianca’s family some amount of peace.”
Defense attorney David Markus had argued that Larry Rudolph had no financial motive to kill his wife. In court documents, he noted that Rudolph owns a dental practice near Pittsburgh valued at $10 million.
“We are obviously extremely disappointed. We believe in Larry and his children,” Markus and fellow defense attorneys Margot Moss and Lauren Doyle said in a statement after Monday’s verdict. “There are lots of really strong appellate issues, which we will be pursuing after we have had a chance to regroup.”
An embassy official expressed suspicion after the shooting, the FBI said
In court documents, investigators alleged Rudolph raised suspicions when he sought to quickly cremate his wife’s body in Zambia.
Rudolph scheduled a cremation three days after her death, according to court documents. After he reported her death to the US Embassy in the Zambian capital of Lusaka, the consular chief “told the FBI he had a bad feeling about the situation, which he thought was moving too quickly,” FBI special agent Donald Peterson wrote in the criminal affidavit.
As a result, the consular chief and two other embassy officials went to the funeral home where the body was being held to take photographs and preserve any potential evidence. When Rudolph found out the embassy officials had taken photos of his wife’s body, he was “livid,” Peterson wrote.
Rudolph initially told the consular chief that his wife may have died by suicide, but an investigation by Zambian law enforcement ruled it an accidental discharge.
Investigators for the insurers reached a similar conclusion and paid on the policies.
But forensic evidence showed Bianca Rudolph’s wounds came from a shot fired from at least two feet away, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court.
“At that distance, there is reason to believe that Bianca Rudolph was not killed by an accidental discharge as stated,” the complaint said.
A friend of Bianca Rudolph’s asked the FBI to investigate
But federal investigators maintained the shooting was premeditated so that Rudolph “could falsely claim the death was the result of an accident.”
Rudolph orchestrated his wife’s death as part of a scheme to defraud life insurance companies and to allow him to live openly with his then-girlfriend, the FBI alleged.
Bianca and Lawrence Rudolph moved from Pennsylvania to Arizona about four years before her death. Rudolph’s dental practice remained in Pennsylvania, and he commuted back and forth from his Phoenix home.
Federal authorities got involved after a friend of Bianca Rudolph asked the FBI to investigate the death because she suspected foul play. The friend said Larry Rudolph had been involved in extramarital affairs and had a girlfriend at the time of his wife’s death.
The girlfriend worked as a manager at his dental practice near Pittsburgh and told a former employee that she’d been dating him for 15 to 20 years, according to court documents.
Three months after Bianca Rudolph’s death, the girlfriend moved in with Larry Rudolph, according to court documents.
The jury found Rudolph’s girlfriend guilty Monday of being an accessory after the fact to murder, obstruction of justice and two counts of perjury before the grand jury, according to the Department of Justice.
CNN has reached out to her attorney for comment.
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