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High Rise Homicide - Amber Hilberling Murder Trial

On a Tuesday in June of 2011 in Tulsa Oklahoma, 23 year old Josh Hilberling fell to his death, crashing through the living room window of the 25th floor apartment he shared with his 19 year old pregnant wife, Amber Hilberling. Amber, 7 months pregnant with son Levi at the insisted to investigators that Josh's fall was an accident. While police initially viewed Amber as a witness to an accident or perhaps a suicide, the tide changed quickly after the police watched and listened in as Amber talked to grandmother Georgia,  in the interrogation room while at the police station. "I killed him", Amber said.

Witnesses at the University Club Towers high rise took photos of a distraught Amber cradling her husband's head to her chest after she rushed down the 17 floors to reach her husband's body - which had landed on the pavement of an 8 story parking garage below the high rise.  Josh died on impact.  First responders described her as confused, shocked and emotional and she didn't want to accept that he was dead. Officer Don Holloway arrived on the scene and talked to neighbors, and two witnesses outside the building who saw Josh fall from the 25th floor window.  One described Josh as "flailing and screaming, looking as if he was pedaling a bicycle", this would seem to confirm that he was alive and aware of what was happening to him as he helplessly fell to his death.  How terrifying those moments must have been for him.

A neighbor told police that he heard the two arguing before hearing a loud noise, which was the glass window breaking through.  That same neighbor provided what would turn out to be key testimony at Amber's trial.  He told the jury that he heard what sounded like running, immediately before the glass breaking, which prosecutors allege was Amber getting a running start to get some weight behind the push.  They believed the act was deliberate.  The 5'5 Amber would have had to had caught the much taller, heavier and stronger Josh off balance enough to have pushed him through that glass window. That deliberate act showed a reckless disregard for life, which equaled a second degree murder charge against Amber.

Amber met Josh at a Halloween party in 2011. Although the two seemed like a mismatch to most of their family and friends, the romance was quick and heavy. After Josh found out he was going to be stationed in Alaska with the Air Force, they headed to the courthouse and got married - they later had a reception with family and friends.  The honeymoon was short lived, however. Within months of moving to Alaska, cracks in the shaky foundation of their marriage began to surface as the two began to realize how different they really were.  Both sets of parents reported a number of late night calls, where each would confess about frequent fighting and general unhappiness.  Had they made a mistake getting married so quickly and while so young? After Josh was discharged from the Air Force, the pair moved back to Tulsa - and into Amber's mother's condo at the University Club Towers. When Amber found out she was pregnant, they tried to make the marriage work.  But it wasn't working. The fighting continued, and one fight got so heated that Amber reportedly hit Josh over the head with a lamp, which took 10 staples and 11 stitches to close the wound. He filed or a restraining order against his wife, but when neither party showed up for court the case was dropped.  That was a few weeks before Josh was killed.

Amber would later try to explain the restraining order, telling the jury that it was done in a move to make Josh's parents believe he was divorcing her - so they wouldn't take away his trust fund! Although the police didn't have much in the way of evidence at the apartment, what wasn't there was just as telling.  Near the window, considered the crime scene nothing was disrupted or out of place. No signs of a struggle, nothing pushed over or out of place.  This would become important at trial as for the first time since her arrest, Amber put forth a new explanation for Josh's fall - self defense.  She testified that they argued, and Josh grabbed her shoulders aggressively - she "pushed his chest", shoving him away from her. She was 7 months pregnant, she told the jury. This was the first time the State or anybody else had heard anything about self defense. Would the jury believe her?

The State brought in evidence and testimony about the glass used for the windows in the University Club Towers apartments.  It seems Amber and Josh had fought before, and Amber reportedly threw a laundry basket through the bedroom window.  The glass repairman said the glass used in the building should have been replaced long ago - it didn't belong in high rise apartments. This would seem to show that Amber knew, or should have known the glass on those windows was fragile and not strong.  Yet she pushed her husband towards it.  Another key piece of evidence at trial - photos of Josh's packed bags sitting next to the front door.  He was leaving Amber, and had called his father for a ride and was waiting for him when the fight began. Was Amber mad because he was leaving her?  In the end, the tape the State played of Amber's talk with her grandmother may have done her the most harm.  In what appeared to be an honest moment of complete clarity, she told her grandmother that Josh was "messing with the TV", and she pushed him and he tripped and lost his balance and hit the window and fell out. She says that her eyes met his in the moment before he fell to his death - a memory that will haunt her for the rest of her life.  She also says she rushed to the window in time to see his body hit the ground.

The State also brought in two jailhouse informants, or snitches - however you see this type of testimony.  They both claim that Amber joked about her husband's death, and the manner in which he died.  I don't know if that is true or not, but the jury seemed to agree that Amber was responsible for the death of her husband. They found her guilty of second degree murder and punctuated the verdict with a 25 year sentence. This case came to my attention last night while watching MSNBC's Lockup.  Amber Hilberling was at the Tulsa jail that was featured last night - the case was also featured earlier this year on Dateline. I don't know enough about the background of these two people to form an opinion on what may have really happened. What does seem clear is that she should have known that the window was dangerous, the glass was not thick enough and that seems reckless to me.  She will have 25 years to think about that.

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