A wealthy dentist who was found guilty of fatally shooting his wife on a hunting trip in Zambia in 2016 has been sentenced to life in prison for murder, the Justice Department said on Monday.
The dentist, Lawrence Rudolph, 68, will also serve a concurrent sentence of 20 years for filing fraudulent life insurance claims, and he was ordered to pay more than $4.8 million in restitution and a fine of $2 million, the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Colorado said in a statement.
Lawyers for Dr. Rudolph said on Monday that they planned to appeal the sentencing. “Larry is innocent,” the lawyers, David O. Markus and Margot Moss, said in a statement. “He did not murder his wife.”
Dr. Rudolph, formerly of Paradise Valley, Ariz., collected nearly $4.9 million in life insurance benefits after his wife died during a trip to Kafue National Park in western Zambia. His wife, Bianca Rudolph, a big game hunter, had been hoping to add a leopard to her trophy collection, according to court documents.
Instead, Ms. Rudolph, who was 56, died from a fatal shotgun blast “straight on the heart,” court documents show. A hunting guide and a game scout told investigators that, after hearing the shot, they rushed to the Rudolphs’ remote hunting cabin on the morning of Oct. 11, 2016, and found Ms. Rudolph bleeding from the left side of her chest.
Dr. Rudolph said that his wife must have discharged the shotgun as she was trying to put it in its case, the authorities said at the time. Law enforcement authorities in Zambia determined that the firearm was loaded, and that the normal safety precautions for packing it away had not been taken, according to court documents.
But based on the gunshot wound, the F.B.I. and U.S. consular officials concluded that Ms. Rudolph had been shot from a distance of six and a half to eight feet. When they tried to reconstruct the shooting, they determined that it was extremely unlikely that she had accidentally pulled the trigger on the shotgun.
During a trial last August, prosecutors argued that Dr. Rudolph killed his wife for financial reasons and because he was having an affair with another woman, Lori Milliron. He was found guilty by a federal jury on one count of murder of a U.S. national in a foreign country and one count of mail fraud. In June, Ms. Milliron, 65, was sentenced to 17 years in federal prison for her role as an accessory in the murder.
Dr. Rudolph has maintained his innocence. “I absolutely did not shoot my wife,” he said during the 2022 trial, according to The Colorado Springs Gazette. “I did not murder my wife for insurance. I did not murder my wife to be with Lori Milliron or anyone else.”
Mr. Markus, one of the lawyers for Dr. Rudolph, said that there was not enough evidence to prove Dr. Rudolph killed his wife.
“The evidence just is not sufficient; forget about reasonable doubt, there was just no actual evidence that he did it,” Mr. Markus wrote in a text message on Monday evening. “The government preyed on the emotions of the jurors, arguing about money and affairs, which had the desired effect of making Larry look terrible but does not make up for the lack of evidence regarding murder.”
Federal prosecutors, however, said that the “evidence presented at trial proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Lawrence Rudolph murdered his wife, Bianca.” Using a 12-gauge shotgun, Dr. Rudolph “shot his wife through the heart,” they said, “scheming to make the murder look like an accident.” Dr. Rudolph filed nine separate fraudulent life insurance claims after returning to the United States, prosecutors said.
“This result shows that no matter how much money, prestige or power you have, you will be held accountable for your crimes,” Cole Finegan, the U.S. attorney for Colorado, said in the news release. “The fact that justice arrived today is no accident.”