Letters From Dead Wife Cause Stunning Reversal in Murder Case

Judge throws out the husband's conviction; wife wrote letters detailing fear.
3:00 | 12/20/13

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Transcript for Letters From Dead Wife Cause Stunning Reversal in Murder Case
stunning reversal of a murder case in wisconsin, where a federal judge has thrown out the conviction of a husband found guilty of murdering his wife. Days before her death, she wrote a letter saying she feared her husband was planning to kill her. But the judge is ruling that the jury should have never seen that letter. Linsey davis has the story. Reporter: This morning, mark jensen could be one step closer to being a free man, after being sentenced to life in prison, for killing his 40-year-old wife with antifreeze back in 1998. Earlier this week, a federal judge in wisconsin overturned his 2008 conviction, finding that jensen's constitutional rights were violated because he says a letter, written by jensen's deceased wife, julie jensen, before she died, shouldn't have been part of the trial. It's been described as a voice from the grave. A letter that julie jensen wrote and gave to her neighbors, telling them, if anything should ever happen to her, they should give it to police. Less than one week later, julie was dead. But in the federal judge's 33-page order, he wrote that the letter had a substantial and injurious effect on the verdict. And that a reasonable jury could perhaps reach the same verdict in a trial free of constitutional error. From the beginning, jensen's attorneys argued the letter should not be admissible. That jensen's depressed wife took her own life and used the letter to frame him. The maker of the allegations was not able to be cross-examined. Reporter: The trial judge artic argued the letter should be shown to the jury. The trial judge went on to explain that jensen forfeited that right because he was responsible for why the witness could not appear. Without the words from the grave, this trial and the strength of the government's case, is dramatically different and dramatically lesser. Reporter: The state now has 90 days to appeal this federal ruling. If it does not, jensen will be released. Until then, he remains behind bars with his sentence to life in prison now uncertain. For "good morning america," linsey davis, abc news, new york. Let's sort through this with abc's chief legal affairs anchor, dan abrams. It may be maddening. But the idea this case could get overturn has some legal merit. This is the sort of ruling that makes people crazy. It makes people hate lawyers. This woman goes to friends, goes to the police and says, I'm warning you, my husband's going to kill me. She writes a letter where she details it. And now, we're saying that that letter can't be admitted into evidence? Except the answer is that there may have been a mistake here in letting it in. Why? Because as the lawyer in that piece mentioned, you do have a right to confront your accuser. And she made an accusation here. This was effectively testimony. And as a result, the defense argues, we should have a right to cross-examine her. It's classic heresy. And as a result, not admissible. If you believe the prosecutor, she can't testify because the husband killed her. And that's what the prosecution argued in this case. There is an exception to the heresy rule. If you're responsible. That's the ultimate question. Was he responsible? If they'd been involved in some sort of litigation and suddenly, she couldn't show up in court, then that statement would be admissible. But here, the question is, was he responsible? And as a result, in particular because of a newer supreme court case, this federal judge is stepping in. This has gone all the way through the wisconsin state courts. Now, a federal court is saying, the wisconsin courts got this all wrong. This never should have come in. It's a crucial piece of evidence because I think if this does not come in and he is retried, there's a chance he could get acquitted. Wow. We have a lot more -- fascinating legal case. Dan abrams, thanks very much. Let's go to ginger with the

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