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Testimony begins in court-martial of Fort Wainwright soldier accused of murdering his wife

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Posted: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 11:54 pm | Updated: 1:24 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — Testimony began Tuesday in a general court-martial for a Fort Wainwright soldier who admits killing his wife but denies planning to murder her.

A panel of five enlisted soldiers and five officers has the responsibility of deciding whether Spc. Aaron M. Rentfrow, 30, committed the crime of premeditated murder Jan. 9 when he strangled Tonya Lynn Rentfrow, 31, with a computer cord. 

If convicted of premeditated murder, Rentfrow could be sentenced to life behind bars. Military prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.

His defense attorneys are asking the panel to find he committed lesser crimes, such as voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, punishable by maximum terms of 15 and 10 years respectively.

Although Rentfrow admitted he killed his wife, he did not enter any written plea agreement.

The trial is expected to take two or three days. It is being held in a military courtroom on Fort Wainwright.

Tuesday’s testimony was devoted to witnesses called by the prosecution. Trial counsel Maj. Rob Steele devoted much attention to photographs of the victim’s body taken in the living room of her Fort Wainwright home. Steele said signs of premeditation included evidence Tonya Rentfrow was bound with duct tape before she was strangled and a sticky note with Rentfrow’s handwriting was stuck to her back.

The sticky note has cell phone numbers of two male former co-workers of Tonya Rentfrow. Both co-workers testified Tuesday that their relationship with her appeared to make Aaron Rentfrow jealous. One witness said Tonya Rentfrow once brought him home after work and this bothered Aaron Rentfrow because she had not told her husband he was coming over. 

The other man said he sometimes talked to Tonya Rentfrow about frustrations in their marriages. Both witnesses said they were never in a sexual relationship with Tonya.

Military defense attorney Capt. William Obringer has not yet had a chance to call witnesses in Rentfrow’s defense. But he challenged the prosecution’s narrative of a premeditated murder in his opening statement, describing Rentfrow as a man “who was near the edge on a cold January day ... and was pushed.”

Rentfrow, a mental health specialist, served in the Army between 1999 and 2003. He re-enlisted in 2007 and was stationed at Fort Wainwright in May 2010. He is originally from Fort Wayne, Ind. His wife was originally from Conway, Ark.

By military law, it takes a two-thirds majority of a panel to reach a conviction. Rentfrow’s panel has 10 members because neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys elected to remove any of the members from the panel before the case began. 

Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545.

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