A Tulsa County jury convicted a woman of second-degree murder on Monday for pushing her husband, causing him to fall through a high-rise apartment window in Tulsa to his death.
Jurors recommended a 25-year prison sentence for Amber Michelle Hilberling, 21, for fatally pushing 23-year-old Joshua Hilberling during an argument in 2011.
He fell from a window on the 25th floor of the University Club Tower, 1722 S. Carson Ave., to the top of a parking garage 17 stories below.
The jury deliberated about three hours before returning a guilty verdict that left Amber Hilberling's family sobbing in a packed courtroom. While waiting for the jury to enter, family members and friends of both Joshua and Amber Hilberling sat shaking in nervous silence, many dabbing at tears.
Flanked by her attorneys, Amber Hilberling stood and appeared stunned as the verdict was announced.
Sheriff's deputies pulled up a chair for her as District Judge Kurt Glassco inquired about the custody and welfare of her toddler son, Levi. Hilberling was seven months' pregnant at the time of her husband's death.
Deputies led her from the courtroom in handcuffs. She has spent more than a year in the Tulsa Jail, and she will remain there while awaiting formal sentencing, which is set for April 23.
The jury also imposed a $10,000 fine for the murder conviction.
The law requires that Hilberling serve at least 85 percent of her sentence - about 21 years - behind bars before becoming eligible for parole.
Jurors had the option of returning a verdict on the lesser charge of first-degree manslaughter, which can carry a punishment of four years to life in prison.
Second-degree murder carries a punishment range of 10 years to life in prison.
Under the law, second-degree murder does not require that the prosecution prove intent to kill on the part of a defendant. The prosecution is required to prove that an act was "imminently dangerous" to another person and "evincing a depraved mind," but without any premeditated intent to cause a death.
Prior to the trial, Hilberling rejected plea offers, including one that called for a sentence of five years in prison plus 15 years of probation.
Both the prosecution and defense framed closing arguments using different pieces of an hour-long video of Hilberling and her grandmother, who were unaware that they were being recorded at the Tulsa Police Department immediately after the death.
A packed courtroom last week watched the video of a sobbing, pregnant Hilberling telling her grandmother that she pushed her husband and that her dead husband's parents were right: "They kept saying if we stayed together, I'm going to kill him."
Although the video showed Hilberling's angst and remorse over her husband's death, her attorneys fought to keep it from being admitted as evidence.
"We're very disappointed with the verdict and plan on appealing," said defense attorney April Seibert.
The videotaped confession was not helpful to her defense, said defense attorney Jasen Corns.
Assistant District Attorney Michelle Keely said the jury carefully considered all the evidence presented to it and that Joshua Hilberling's death is a reminder that domestic violence occurs in every part of the community.
"Justice doesn't bring Josh back," Keely said.
The Hilberlings' young son lost one parent to a homicide, and now the other parent is headed to prison, she remarked.
"Levi will grow up knowing there are consequences to actions," Keely said.
She had argued that Hilberling pushed her husband to his death on June 7, 2011, because she was angry that he was planning to leave her while she was pregnant in a short, rocky marriage.
Corns and Seibert had argued that Hilberling shoved her husband in self-defense and could not have anticipated that he would break through a living room picture window and fall to his death. They had also argued that the glass used in the construction of the windows was dangerously thin compared to modern standards.
Hilberling testified Friday that she shoved her husband in self-defense after he grabbed her shoulders during an argument and that they had fought after she asked him for a divorce.
But the victim's family and friends testified he was planning to leave his wife and had called his father and friends for a ride. Jurors were shown pictures of his bags packed near the front door and a copy of the emergency protective order Joshua Hilberling had obtained against his wife one month before his death.
In seeking the protective order, he said Amber Hilberling had thrown a lamp at his head, causing injuries that required staples and stitches, court records show. The protective order was dismissed when the couple decided not to show up for court, according to testimony.
Keely said Amber Hilberling's claims of self-defense were "inconsistent" with the evidence, questioning why she never told detectives at the scene that her husband had attacked her before she pushed him out the window.
"It didn't happen like she said it happened," Keely said.
Seibert said testimony from the couple's neighbors proved that the Hilberlings were engaged in a mutual fight, one that ended in a tragic accident when Amber Hilberling tried to defend herself.
Seibert said last week's testimony from the manager of the University Club apartments proved that her client was not in a violent state that day. The manager testified that he yelled "Shut up!" at Amber Hilberling when she kept screaming as she took the elevator down to find her husband's dead body.
"She's not throwing punches," Seibert told the jury. "A man yells at her, and she curls up like a ball on the floor of the elevator."
The evidence jurors were shown included a picture of Amber Hilberling crumpling in anguish near her husband's dead body when she found where he had landed on the parking garage. Investigators found a puddle of vomit near his body.
Jurors were also shown multiple photos of Joshua Hilberling's mangled, twisted corpse at the scene. The force of the fall broke bones in nearly every part of his body, and his spinal cord was torn in several places, an autopsy showed.
Both the prosecution and defense presented expert witnesses to testify as to the safety of the glass that shattered in the apartment window, which was original to the building's 1966 construction. But the safety of the glass was always a side issue, Keely said. The focus was always on the push that led to Joshua Hilberling's death, she said.
The trial started a week ago with jury selection, and testimony concluded Friday.
Cary Aspinwall 918-581-8477
Bill Braun 918-581-8455
SUBHEAD: A jury finds her guilty of second-degree murder in her husband's fatal fall.
Original Print Headline: Hilberling convicted