Jurors Weigh Case of US Dentist Accused of Killing Wife on Safari in Africa

Jurors Weigh Case of US Dentist Accused of Killing Wife on Safari in Africa
A defense investigator (L) for Pittsburgh dentist Lawrence "Larry" Rudolph heads into federal court with the dentist's children, front center and back right, for the afternoon session of the trial in Denver on July 13, 2022. (David Zalubowski/AP Photo)

DENVER—A lawyer for a wealthy dentist accused of shooting and killing his wife at the end of an African safari trip urged jurors on Friday to dismiss what he said was a government case built on gossip and innuendo and acquit him.

Lawrence “Larry” Rudolph’s attorney, David Markus, said there was a “lot of noise” during the three-week trial about the 67-year-old defendant’s affairs, cash payments to his girlfriend, and whether the funeral he organized for his wife was nice enough. But he said federal prosecutors had not proven that Bianca Rudolph, his client’s wife of 34 years and a nervous traveler, did not accidentally shoot herself.

Bianca Rudolph died after being shot by their Browning shotgun in their cabin as she packed in a hurry on the October 2016 morning they were supposed to leave Zambia and start their journey home to the United States.

Lawyers gave their last arguments Friday in Denver federal court before handing the case off to a jury of six women and six men. Jurors did not reach a verdict by 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 possible death penalty if convicted of murder.

Markus acknowledged that Rudolph, a big game hunter and former head of an international safari club who testified that he had an open marriage with his wife, may not be likeable but he said he is still innocent.

“Give Dr. Rudolph the benefit of the doubt that the law requires. He didn’t do this,” Markus said in closing arguments.

But prosecutors said the facts of the case removed all doubt of Rudolph’s guilt, including that the shot hit Bianca’s heart at an angle that indicated the gun was slightly above and about 2 to 3.5 feet away from her. The fatal shot could not have been caused by her accidentally dropping the gun, U.S. Assistant Attorney Bryan Fields told jurors.

Rudolph filed a life insurance claim the day before his wife’s funeral, went to Las Vegas with another woman the day after the funeral and his girlfriend, Lori Milliron, moved into his home by the end of the month, U.S. Assistant Attorney Garreth Winstead said.

Fields said Rudolph killed his wife to be with Milliron, a longtime employee at his Pennsylvania dental franchise, and regain control over his life and finances after Bianca Rudolph began demanding more say in the couple’s finances and pressuring her husband to fire Milliron. Milliron was tried alongside Rudolph on accusations of lying to a grand jury and being an accessory after the fact.

Milliron’s attorney, John Dill, has suggested she is the victim of leading questions by investigators and the grand jury. He told jurors Friday the case against his client was like a “click bait” news story without any substance to back up the enticing headline. Dill said investigators tried to “trip her up” and use her answers against her later, he said.

Rudolph was worth more than $15 million when his wife died and Markus argued he had no financial motive for murder. Investigators for the insurers who later paid $4.8 million for Bianca Rudolph’s death concluded her death was an accident.

A bartender at a steakhouse in Phoenix, where Milliron moved to be with Rudolph after Bianca’s death, said he overheard Rudolph saying “I killed my [expletive] wife for you!” during an argument they were having in early 2020. However, Brian Lovelace testified that he could not hear the words right before that statement because music was playing. Rudolph testified that he actually said, “Now they’re saying I killed my [expletive] wife for you!” after learning that the FBI was investigating him.

Prosecutors emphasized that Rudolph filed a defamation lawsuit that said officials at Safari Club International falsely accused him of adultery and lying about his affairs when questioned by lawyers. During his murder trial, Rudolph acknowledged he had lied during that lawsuit but said he was being truthful now. Fields told jurors not to believe anything Rudolph said, saying he had nothing to lose by lying about killing his wife.

During the trial, the Rudolphs’ longtime hunting guide, Mark Swanepoel, testified that mistakes can always happen with firearms, saying, “The devil loads the shotgun.”

While Fields accused Rudolph of crying “crocodile tears” on the stand, after he said Rudolph shot and killed his wife, Fields pointed out that Swanepoel rushed in to find Rudolph sobbing. Fields said Rudolph recognized the gravity of what he had done.

“The devil loads the shotgun but it’s the demons who haunt the man who wields it,” Fields said.

After closing arguments, Rudolph looked toward his two adult children, Anabianca and Julian Rudolph, sitting in the courtroom gallery to support him, and made a sign of the cross before being led out a side door by authorities. Outside in the hallway, they spoke quietly with relatives of their mother, including her brothers, who have been sitting on the prosecution side of court.

By Colleen Slevin

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