DENVER (AP) — A wealthy dentist killed his wife of 34 years with a shotgun blast at dawn on a remote African safari in 2016, collected nearly $5 million in insurance proceeds and later blurted out to his longtime lover that “I killed my f—g wife for you!,” a U.S. prosecutor told a jury in opening statements of the dentist’s murder trial Wednesday.
The alleged admission happened during an argument between Lawrence “Larry” Rudolph and his girlfriend, Lori Milliron, at a Phoenix steakhouse after he learned in 2020 that the FBI was investigating his wife Bianca Rudolph’s shooting death in a small cabin in Zambia, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bishop Grewell said in a Denver courtroom.
“He killed his wife for HER!,” Grewell said, pointing at Milliron, who is charged with lying to a grand jury and being an accessory after the fact and is being tried alongside Rudolph.
Rudolph, 67, is charged with murder and mail fraud in what prosecutors describe as a premeditated crime. He faces a maximum term of life in prison or the death penalty if convicted of murder in the trial, which is being held in a Colorado courtroom because the insurance payouts were based here.
Rudolph has maintained his innocence. He told Zambian police his wife died while he was in the bathroom, suggesting she shot herself while trying to pack a shotgun the couple took on the trip.
“They’ve chosen speculation over science. They’ve chosen fiction over fact,” declared Rudolph’s attorney, David Markus, in an equally impassioned opening statement.
Markus argued that the Rudolphs, the parents of two children, were in a happy marriage in 2016 that over the years had its ups and downs because both had had extramarital affairs — but that both continued to take frequent big game hunting trips. Bianca Rudolph was long aware of her husband’s relationship with Milliron, he said.
Markus had the couple’s grown children stand in court to affirm to jurors they were there to support their father, who along with Milliron paid close attention to the opening statements.
Milliron’s attorney, John Dill, told jurors his client knew nothing about any alleged murder and suggested she is the victim of leading questions by investigators and the grand jury.
“This isn’t a trial about adultery,” Dill said.
No one witnessed the shotgun blast in the cabin, said Milliron’s attorney, John Dill. The shotgun occurred about 5 a.m. as local guides were in and out serving the couple coffee and helping them prepare for the return trip to the U.S., Markus said.
Within seconds, the guides were inside, finding Rudolph in distress and shock, Markus said. With support staff in and out that morning, the cabin’s doors open and window shades pulled up, Rudolph wouldn’t have had time to get away with shooting his wife, Markus argued.
Displaying a photo of the cabin — blood spattered on the floor, Bianca’s body covered by a black-striped white blanket, a 12-gauge Browning shotgun lying inside a soft case nearby — Markus argued that Bianca accidentally dropped the weapon, triggering the fatal shot in the heart, as she hurriedly packed up for the trip while Larry Rudolph was in the bathroom.
Zambian authorities determined two days after the Oct. 11, 2016, shooting that it was accidental, Markus said. Investigators for the insurers who later paid $4.8 million reached the same conclusion.
Prosecutors counter that evidence shows her wounds came from a shot fired from 2 to 3.5 feet away.
The government will prove that Rudolph, who built a small fortune with a Pennsylvania dental franchise, killed Bianca after receiving an ultimatum from Milliron, a former hygienist and manager of his office, that he divorce his wife, Grewell said.
Federal prosecutors, citing a U.S. consular official and others in Zambia, say Rudolph was in a hurry to have his wife cremated before returning home. A friend of Bianca’s, too, told the FBI she was suspicious because Bianca was a devout Catholic who would have opposed the practice.
But Markus displayed to jurors a copy of what he said was Bianca’s will stating she wanted to be cremated in the event of her death.
Markus argued that Rudolph had no financial motive for murder. His net worth was more than $15 million at the time; the insurance proceeds went into a trust for their children; and a prenuptial agreement with Bianca specified she’d get $2 million in case of a divorce, he said.
Rudolph plans to testify during the three-week trial, Markus said.
“He has the truth on his side,” Rudolph said.
Markus also told jurors that Rudolph’s alleged admission of guilt at the Phoenix restaurant was misheard by the witness. He claimed that what his client actually said was, ““They’re saying I killed my f—g wife for you,” Markus said.
“If that is what this case depends on, I can’t believe we’re going to be here for three weeks,” Markus said.
The case has attracted attention from Zambia to Pennsylvania to Arizona, where the Rudolphs — and later Rudolph and Milliron — established a comfortable residence in the Phoenix-area enclave of Paradise Valley.
Rudolph had built a small fortune as a dentist and later owner of a dental sedation franchise in the Pittsburgh area. He was a familiar fixture on local TV, advertising his services. He met Bianca at the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied dentistry, and they married in 1982.
The couple took frequent trips abroad and had traveled to Kafue National Park in 2016 so Bianca could fulfill her wish of bagging a leopard.
James Anderson, The Associated Press