(CNN) — An American dentist and hunter has been found guilty of manslaughter 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 collected more than $4.8 million in life insurance after the woman’s death nearly six years ago.
Rudolph has maintained his innocence and maintains that he believes the gun went off accidentally.
“I didn’t kill my wife. I couldn’t kill my wife. I wouldn’t kill my wife,” Rudolph told jurors as 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 South African nation of Zambia in September 2016 so that Bianca Rudolph could add a leopard to her collection of animal trophies.
They carried two weapons 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 was fatally shot by a Browning shotgun at her hunting lodge in Kafue National Park. Rudolph told investigators that she heard the shot at dawn while she was in the bathroom and believed the shotgun accidentally went off while she was putting it in her case, according to court documents. Rudolph told investigators that she found her bleeding on the ground.
But federal prosecutors at Rudolph’s trial in Denver, where the insurance companies are based, described it as a premeditated crime. Prosecutors argued that Rudolph killed his wife whom he had cohabited with for 30 years for insurance money and to be with his girlfriend, Lori Milliron.
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 very disappointed. We believe in Larry and his children,” Markus and fellow defense attorneys Margot Moss and Lauren Doyle told CNN in a statement after Monday’s verdict. “There are a lot of really strong appeal issues, which we’ll pursue after we’ve had a chance to regroup.”
The jury also found Milliron, Rudolph’s girlfriend, guilty of accessory to murder, obstruction of justice and two counts of perjury based on her grand jury testimony, according to the Justice Department.
Milliron, who was tried alongside Rudolph, said the couple had been in an open relationship, according to court documents. Milliron and Rudolph lived together from 2017 until his arrest last year, his attorney, John Dill, told CNN.
“We’re disappointed in the jury’s verdict, but that’s our system,” Dill said. “Lori Milliron is innocent and we will continue to fight to exonerate her.”
An embassy official expressed his suspicions after the shooting, according to the FBI
In court documents, investigators said Rudolph aroused suspicion when he tried to quickly cremate his wife’s body in Zambia.
Rudolph scheduled the cremation three days after her death, according to court documents. After reporting her death to the US embassy in Lusaka, the Zambian capital, the consular chief “told the FBI that he had a bad feeling about the situation, that he thought it was moving too fast,” wrote the FBI special agent Donald Peterson in the criminal affidavit.
Consequently, the consular chief and two other embassy officials went to the funeral home where the body was located to take photographs and preserve any possible evidence. When Rudolph learned that embassy officials had taken photos of his wife’s body, he was “furious,” Peterson wrote.
Rudolph initially told the head of the consulate that his wife may have died by suicide, but an investigation by Zambian security forces ruled that the shooting was accidental.
Insurance investigators came to a similar conclusion and paid out the policies.
But forensic evidence showed that Bianca Rudolph’s injuries came from a gunshot 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 gunshot as claimed,” the complaint says.
US Attorney Cole Finegan celebrated the jury’s verdict.
“Bianca Rudolph deserves justice,” Finegan said in a statement. “We can only hope that this verdict brings Bianca’s family some peace.”
A friend of Bianca Rudolph asked the FBI to investigate
But federal investigators maintain the shooting was premeditated so 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 allow him to live openly with his 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 traveled back and forth from his home in Phoenix.
Federal authorities became involved after a friend of Bianca Rudolph’s asked the FBI to investigate the death because she suspected a crime had been committed. The friend said that Larry Rudolph had been involved in extramarital affairs and had a girlfriend at the time of his wife’s death.
Milliron worked as a manager at Larry Rudolph’s dental clinic near Pittsburgh and told a former employee that she had been dating him for 15 to 20 years, according to court documents. Milliron moved in with Rudolph three months after Bianca Rudolph’s death, according to court documents.