A woman who killed her husband by drugging him on their boat on Lake Coeur d’Alene likely will spend the rest of her life in prison.
Lori Isenberg, 67, pleaded guilty in February in the killing of Larry Isenberg three years ago.
The killing was part of scheme aimed at preventing her husband from learning that Isenberg had embezzled a half-million dollars from her employer, the North Idaho Housing Coalition.
Judge Scott Wayman sentenced Isenberg to a life sentence with at least 30 years behind bars.
Isenberg originally was charged with first-degree homicide through the use of poison but pleaded to a lesser charge of second-degree homicide with an Alford plea, allowing her to maintain innocence while acknowledging that she likely would be found guilty if the case went to trial.
Prosecutors argued for a sentence of at least 30 years, in part, because of Isenberg’s unwillingness to accept full responsibility. Prosecutors, two of her daughters and Larry Isenberg’s two children testified that she was a liar who still wouldn’t admit to what the evidence made clear.
At Monday’s sentencing hearing, Isenberg acknowledged she was responsible for her husband’s death, but claimed that she had been planning to kill herself, not her husband. She said she had laced a drink with Benadryl to kill herself, but that he drank it while she was asleep on the boat.
“I know that Larry would still be alive if it were not for me fixing a drink with Benadryl in it so that I would be able to selfishly and cowardly take my life,” she said. “If I would not have had that bottle in there, he would not have accidentally drank it. That is my fault. I take total blame and responsibility for that.”
Isenberg’s attorney recommended a life sentence with at least 15 years in prison.
“Your truth doesn’t hold up in light of all the evidence,” Wayman said.
It took search crews a month to find 68-year-old Larry Isenberg’s body after it ended up in Lake Coeur d’Alene on Feb. 13, 2018.
After an autopsy found he had lethal levels of Benadryl in his system, prosecutors accused Lori Isenberg of planning to poison and drown her husband.
“The manner in which I lost my father, Larry Isenberg, has left a hole in my soul that I will never be able to fill, and for three years that hole has just continued to get deeper and deeper at the web of lies, deceit and manipulation that have continued to expand,” said Jessica McPherson, Larry Isenberg’s daughter. “Closure is not attainable to myself and those deeply affected by the loss of such a great man and wonderful father.”
Lori Isenberg’s explanation on Monday is different from others she has used since her husband’s death.
In a letter Isenberg wrote to friends a week after her husband’s death, she claimed he fell overboard while leaning over the stalled motor to inspect it. She wrote that she tried to grab him as he fell but instead tripped over the space heater, striking her head.
She then waited two hours to call 911. She told a detective she’d left her phone at home and initially thought her husband sank with his phone still in his pocket. She eventually called from his phone and said she had waited because she didn’t want to leave the area where he fell.
Weeks later, Isenberg was charged with embezzling a half-million dollars from the North Idaho Housing Coalition in a case of wire fraud that her daughters were also ensnared in when they received some of the stolen money.
When first charged, Isenberg disappeared. After two months she turned herself in.
Isenberg later pleaded guilty to three counts of wire fraud and was sentenced to five years in prison. Four of her daughters who were Larry Isenberg’s stepchildren, Jessica F. Barnes, Amber A. Hosking, April E. Barnes and Traci Tesch, were convicted of conspiracy to commit federal program theft as part of the embezzlement scheme in 2019.
Hosking, who was introduced as Amber Barnes at Monday’s hearing, said her mother manipulated the family.
“Larry dedicated his life to Lori. He loved her. He trusted her, and she killed him,” Barnes said. “Lori’s Alford plea is salt on the wounds on all who mourned the loss of Larry. She deserves to be held accountable for her actions and be seen for who she really is.”
Amber Barnes said Larry Isenberg was a father figure for her and was a “wonderful grandpa” who “would embrace my kids with great big bear hugs and tousle their hair as he told them that he loved them.”
“Our family lost two people that day on the lake. We lost Larry, the grandpa we loved, and we lost Lori, the mother and grandma that we loved, trusted and thought that we knew. Lori shattered our lives when she took Larry’s life, but it didn’t stop there,” Amber Barnes said. “She continued the harm with endless lies and manipulation. She let us stand by her, protect her, support her and believe in her.
“All the while she knew the truth of what she had done.”
Lori Isenberg addressed the court for more than 45 minutes before the judge sentenced her.
She said she began stealing from the coalition because her daughters – one of whom she had kicked out of her home when the daughter was 15 – were struggling financially. She said she felt she could not tell her husband that she wanted to provide financial help to her daughters.
“I saw my precious little grandchildren suffering because their mothers were not able to have a double-income family and not able to provide what they needed,” she said, stressing that they didn’t have medical or dental insurance.
“So what do they do when the kids get sick and have to go to the doctor?” she said. “So what do they do if they need braces?”
“I got to the point where I was torn between adhering to the life and Larry’s standards of life and being able to do what I thought I had to do, and so I came up with the most stupid, shameful plan ever, and that was to steal money from my employer,” she said.
She said she began plotting her suicide after it became clear that Larry would find out about her embezzlement.
Larry’s son, Dean Isenberg, said Lori began stealing money from the coalition only after she had taken money from Larry without his knowledge.
“When it was impossible to hide these actions any longer, she killed him,” Dean Isenberg said. “To know that my father and best friend is no longer alive because of other mistakes and lack of accountability has been a sickening black pit in my heart and soul for the last three years and four months. It is a pain that I likely will never heal from.”
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