FAIRBANKS - A 10-member panel convicted a Fort Wainwright soldier Wednesday afternoon of the premeditated murder of his wife.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled to begin today for Spc. Aaron M. Rentfrow, 30, who had already pleaded guilty to strangling Tonya Lynn Rentfrow but not to the crime of premeditated murder.
The panel returned the guilty verdict after a day and a half of testimony and about two hours of deliberation. By military law, it takes a two-thirds majority of a panel to convict someone of a crime, although the vote is conducted in secret.
He could be sentenced to as much as life in prison. The same panel that judged his guilt will set the sentence.
Rentfrow has been in custody at Fairbanks Correctional Center since the night of his wife’s death when he went to Fairbanks Police Department to report that his wife was dead. At the court-martial he wore a dress uniform and did not say anything after the verdict was announced. An Army mental health technician originally from Fort Wayne, Ind., Rentfrow came to Fort Wainwright in May 2010. He has served in the Army for seven years over two deployments.
His wife, who is originally from Conway, Ark., was found strangled to death with a computer cord on the living room of her Fort Wainwright home on Jan. 10.
In the trial, prosecutors argued Aaron Rentfrow must have thought before acting because he bound her to a chair with duct tape before strangling her.
Defense attorneys argued the victim must have consented to being tied up because there was not much evidence of other injuries to either party or signs of a struggle in living room.
Prosecutors also argued the cause of death showed premeditation. A medical examiner’s written testimony said it takes between two and five minutes of pressure to kill someone with a cord by ligature strangulation, enough time for Rentfrow to have reconsidered his actions, prosecutors argued.
Defense attorneys called a series of witnesses to argue that Rentfrow was a henpecked husband who was moved to kill his wife when he suddenly acted on rage that had been building for months.
“It’s cold in Fairbanks and it’s dark and that home is a pressure cooker,” Army defense attorney Capt. William Obringer said in his closing statement. “You can only kick a dog, the nicest dog, so many times until he’s going to bite you.”
Several witnesses testified they saw Tonya Rentfrow treat her husband cruelly by contradicting or belittling him in social situations and even telling others that he was unable to please her sexually. All the defense witnesses described Rentfrow as a passive, submissive man who usually tried to avoid conflicts.
Trial counsel Maj. Rob Stelle said the analysis of their marriage fails to counter the evidence of premeditated murder.
“The accused had a pretty good legal case for divorce,” he said. “(But) this is not family law court.”
After Rentfrow is sentenced, Maj. Gen. Raymond Palumbo, commander of Army forces in Alaska, will have an opportunity to reduce the sentence if he chooses. Rentfrow also is entitled to an automatic appeal.
Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545.