Since I watched MSNBC's Lockup last weekend, I started reading about the horrible death of 23 year old Joshua Hilberling in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Josh died on June 7, 2011 after crashing through the living room window of the 25th floor apartment he shared with his 19 year old wife Amber. The Lockup staff featured Tulsa's massive jail system, and Amber happened to be one of the inmates featured on the show. I hadn't heard anything about this case before I saw Lockup, however this case has also been featured on NBC's Dateline. Lockup talked to Amber about her case and what happened to her husband Josh, and why she turned down the State of Oklahoma's offer for a 5 year sentence for a guilty plea. That's a question that many people wonder about, given at the time of the Lockup shooting, Amber had not yet been sentenced.
Amber explained to producers that the reason she didn't take the plea deal is because that would mean she was guilty of intentionally killing her husband Josh, something she adamantly denies having done. Lockup filmed Amber being loaded into the Sheriff's van with other inmates who were going to the courthouse, and they talked to her after she returned from sentencing. She received a 25 year sentence. She plans on appealing the sentence. Had she taken the 5 year plea deal, she would've been out of prison while her son Levi was still young. The 25 year sentence means Amber will miss all of Levi's milestone dates. His first day of elementary school, junior high, school dances, the Junior and Senior balls, high school graduation and even college.
Unless her appeals are successful, Amber will likely be in her mid 40s when released, less any time credited for good behavior. I'm not sure how the Oklahoma prison system works or how much of their actual sentences inmates there serve.
I've also read the State of Oklahoma Sentencing Memorandum and Victim Impact Letters, the link is attached below. There is a heartfelt letter from Josh's brother - which really gives you a sense of how volatile Josh's relationship with Amber was and how she treated him in front of friends and family. If she treated him so poorly in front of his family, I can only imagine how bad things may have gotten when they were alone.
While it seems to me that the windows on that apartment building should have been much stronger than they were, Amber should have known they were not unbreakable - and being on the 25th floor, it would be very dangerous to push an individual towards one. Factor in that one of the Hilberlings had recently broken another window in the apartment, and building maintenance man Armando Rosales was there on June 7, 2011 to give them an estimate on replacing the window and it does seem to point to a reckless disregard for Josh's life when Amber pushed him while he was anywhere near a window. I'm not 100% convinced that she meant for Josh to crash through the glass and fall to his death. But her actions did cause his death, and it didn't have to happen. She pushed him with force, and he crashed through the window and fell 17 stories to his death. Was it an accident?
Amber seemed to admit to this during candid moments in the interrogation room with her grandmother. "I killed Josh", "Josh is dead", and "I pushed him", and then she said "what kind of person am I?" I think she was feeling the devastating reality of what had happened, and she knew it was her fault. She kept talking about wanting a time machine, wanting to go back in time and just leave the apartment instead of staying and arguing with Josh. What really happened in the moments before the fall? According to Amber, Josh was the one who was upset and yelling at her. While talking to her grandmother, she seemed to let it slip that Josh was messing with the television before she pushed him - which seems more plausible since there is no evidence of a struggle and Josh seemed to have been blindsided and unable to stop the momentum of being shoved. At trial, Amber called on the old standby "self defense", which took the State by surprise. Especially given the fact that Josh himself had gone to Domestic Violence Intervention Services looking for help. While Josh was stationed in Alaska, the pair had frequent contact with local police because of their tumultuous relationship and loud arguments. One such official gave Amber an ominous warning: "if you stay together, you are going to end up killing him".
One thing is certain. In the minutes before Josh fell to his death, he had called his father and several friends asking for a ride away from the apartment. He had bags packed, planning on at the very least separating from Amber for some period of time. Is that what caused her to lash out at Josh? Was she angry that he was leaving her alone, while she was 7 months pregnant? All we can do is look at her previous behavior, and she HAS some prior bad behavior according to court documents and Josh's family. In an emotional letter written by Josh's brother Zach, he talks about how Amber treated Josh in front of his own family and friends. Zach was serving in Afghanistan when Josh was killed. He wrote a victim impact letter that gave some insight into Amber's behavior with Josh. He said that even on the day of their wedding reception, Amber yelled at Josh and talked down to him. After they were married, they went to live with Amber's parents but days later Amber's mother kicked her out of their house. They went to stay with Scott, Josh's older brother from there. He was getting ready to leave for Afghanistan and wanted to spend as much time with Josh and Scott as possible, but found it very difficult to watch how Amber bullied Josh. He said that every time he saw Amber and Josh together, Amber called him names, made fun of him, punching him and pinching him. It was embarrassing for the brothers to see. Yet Josh acted like it didn't bother him, although they knew it did bother him that Amber treated him so poorly and the family could see.
In October of 2010, Josh and Amber left for Alaska where Josh would be stationed. By November, Josh was calling and saying that Amber was ranting and raving and throwing objects at him. In December, Josh told his brother that Amber was pregnant - not initially thrilled at the prospect but Josh quickly grew excited over becoming a father. On New Years Eve, Josh called his brother crying - something he wasn't used to hearing. He said that Amber pushed him down the stairs and then punched him in the face. She then called security forces on him! The phone calls from Josh about Amber's temper grew more frequent, although security forces were not always involved or informed of the domestic violence. On February 5, 2011 Josh called to tell him that Amber was again throwing things at him and hitting him and he asked him for advice. He told Josh to leave the house, call security forces and get out of that house. He was growing tired of hearing about the abuse, and he couldn't hide it in the tone of his voice. Sadly, this would be the last time he ever heard Josh's voice. He left for Afghanistan, and would talk to Josh via Facebook. During a call home to his mother and father, he learned that the violence had escalated and Amber hit Josh over the head with a lamp, requiring staples and stitches to close the wound. Josh finally had enough and briefly moved home with his parents and filed for a protective order.
The day that she was served with the order, Amber and her mother came to Josh's parents house and made him feel guilty for considering divorce and leaving Amber while she was pregnant. Josh decided to give the marriage one more try. Zach logged onto Facebook during a rare day off duty in Afghanistan and found out his brother was dead. He received a condolence message from a friend, and he immediately went to Josh's page and saw RIP. That was how he found out his brother was dead. Zach's account of the relationship sounds a lot like classic domestic violence, with Amber being the aggressor and Josh being the victim. If she had no problem throwing things at him, hitting him over the head with lamps and pushing him down the stairs, pushing him out the window doesn't seem like such a stretch now. It sounds like Amber has an anger management problem. She'll have the next 25 years to think about it. Josh's father Patrick wrote a similar letter to the court, telling of the devastation caused by his death. Patrick too talked about the many calls he received from his son Josh, crying and unsure of what to do about his marriage to Amber. He told his father about the mental, emotional and physical abuse he was suffering from and how he couldn't get Amber to stop using drugs - even when she was pregnant. By the way, one of the reasons Amber's bond was revoked while she was awaiting trial is because she failed numerous random urine tests, testing positive for THC. I tend to believe Patrick's account of Amber's drug use.
The most eerie and sad part of Patrick's letter was this. At around 3:30PM on June 7, 2011 Josh called his father and told him he wanted to leave Amber. He said he couldn't take it anymore, he could no longer watch Amber's drug use - he was going to file for divorce and try to get custody of the baby when he was born. He needed a ride, his bags were packed and he was ready to leave her for good. Patrick asked Josh where Amber was, he said she was in the bedroom. When he asked Josh if Amber knew he was leaving, he said that she was more interested in her need for drugs than whether he was leaving. Patrick told his son that he didn't get off work until 5:30PM, Josh told his father that he couldn't wait that long. He needed to get out ASAP. Can you even imagine how badly his father Patrick feels that he didn't leave work immediately and go pick up Josh? There is no way anybody could have known what would happen. But to live with that knowledge has to be devastating for Josh's father Patrick. Just horrible. Reading this, knowing the circumstances make it harder to believe that Amber pushed Josh away in self defense, as she told her jury. It sounds to me like that jury got it right.
This story and trial was not covered at all in the Bay Area. What a horrible and sad story. Josh Hilberling will never hold his baby boy, Levi - who was born on August 7th, just 2 months after Josh was killed.
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