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Media descends on Walworth County for murder trial

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Mike Heine
January 5, 2008
— Did Mark D. Jensen poison his wife in 1998 with antifreeze?

Did she poison herself to frame a cheating husband?


Those are questions Walworth County jurors will have to answer at the end of a six- to eight-week trial.


It’s a mystery national media outlets think will make good TV.


TruTV (formerly CourtTV) and CBS hope to bring the story to the nation.


TruTV will broadcast the entire trial live from the Walworth County Judicial Center.


Weeks after the trial ends, CBS will air a story on the primetime news documentary “48 Hours Mystery.”


“It has an unusual quality,” said Peter Henderson, a CBS producer. “The alleged victim in this case is kind of testifying from the grave or the beyond about things she was concerned about before she died.”


Before her death, Julie Jensen told a neighbor and her son’s teacher that she thought Mark might kill her. She gave her neighbor a note that said he should be the first suspect if she died.


In an almost unheard of move, the courts have decided the note is admissible as evidence. Usually, defendants have a right to confront their accusers.


In this case, the accuser is dead.


“That is quite a bit of interest for us, certainly, in the story,” Henderson said. “There is a legal question whether that should be allowed to be heard by a jury.”


Jensen is charged in Kenosha County. Judge Bruce Schroeder moved the trial to Walworth County with hopes of finding a jury with less knowledge of the case. The trial starts Monday.


The CBS airing, probably sometime in April or May, will challenge viewers to form their own opinions, Henderson said.


“I think the philosophy of our program is not to tell the viewers what we think they ought to think. It’s to tell competing points of view,” he said. “We want to let our audience get wrapped in the story itself and let the viewers make up their own mind on who is right and who is wrong.


“Ultimately, our viewers will decide if they think the jury was right or wrong.”


Locally, WTMJ and WISN, the NBC and ABC affiliates in Milwaukee, will provide live updates throughout the case, said WTMJ broadcast engineer Scott Keske. WISN will broadcast the entire trial on its Web site.


“This is the stuff you see on ‘Law and Order,’” he said, “only it will take a little more than 60 minutes to solve this one.”


WTMJ will spend about $30,000 to cover the trial, Keske estimated.


It would take a huge news event for the station to pull its reporter, photojournalist and engineer away from such an investment and a story that has widespread interest, Keske said.


“I think the fact that it’s such strange circumstances—how this woman died—that has captured our interest and the fact that the letter she wrote may be a key element (in the case),”he said. “That is why we’re covering this.”



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