A former Federal Emergency Management Agency videographer accused of killing his wife in Denver is seeking political asylum in Argentina, claiming the U.S. government wants him silenced for what he saw in the smoldering ruins of the Twin Towers after 9/11.
Kurt Sonnenfeld’s efforts to avoid extradition have gained interest from human rights organizations in South America and broad attention from conspiracy theorists on the Internet.
Sonnenfeld, 44, is charged with first-degree murder in the New Year’s Day 2002 shooting death of his 36-year-old wife, Nancy, at the couple’s home in Congress Park.
The case caused a sensation at the time, with friends describing Nancy as among the city’s “beautiful people” and the two as “madly in love.”
The charges against Sonnenfeld were dismissed just before trial in June 2002 after a note written by Nancy Sonnenfeld was found that supported Kurt Sonnenfeld’s contention that she took her own life.
New charges were filed in 2004, however, after two Denver jail inmates came forward to say Sonnenfeld had confessed to them during his time in custody. By then, Sonnenfeld had remarried and was living in Argentina.
He has been fighting extradition ever since, describing the warrants against him as “a false pretext for other darker motives.”
That drew a sharp rebuke Tuesday from Chief Denver District Attorney Michelle Amico.
“I have heard that nonsense from him . . . but then he has nothing to back it up,” she said.
An Argentine judge refused to extradite Sonnenfeld in 2005 because of concerns that he could face the death penalty.
The U.S. Department of Justice appealed that decision, assuring the court that no death sentence would be sought, Amico said. The Justice Department has since been notified that the extradition is on hold while an asylum request is pending, a process that could take months or even years.
In a series of recent e-mails to the Rocky Mountain News, Sonnenfeld said Argentina’s highest court had rejected the appeal and had sent his case back to the presiding judge for ratification.
Sonnenfeld did not bring up 9/11 when the initial murder case was pending against him or during a lengthy interview with the Rocky on the day he was released from jail.
He also declined to specifically discuss the World Trade Center in a 12-page, single-spaced document he sent to the newspaper in late-night e-mail sessions Sunday and Monday.
“You are asking me to antagonize the very people who, for whatever reason, desperately want me destroyed,” Sonnenfeld wrote. “Frankly, I am afraid for the safety of my family. Please don’t ask me about what information I have. This is not really the time or the forum.”
As always, he maintained his innocence in his wife’s death.
“I love Nancy. Nancy’s death was tragic, heartbreaking and affected many people. But it is clear to everyone who knows the truth that she committed suicide. It was not a homicide,” he wrote.
Sonnenfeld blasted accounts of his alleged jailhouse confession as “absurd.” Nancy Sonnenfeld’s family, meanwhile, is firmly convinced of his guilt.
A new life
Sonnenfeld now lives in Buenos Aires with his wife, Paula, and twin 18-month-old daughters. He continues to work as a videographer for Argentine media.
He said he and his family were followed, threatened and photographed before and after his arrest in Argentina in 2004 on the new Denver charges.
“This led us to conclude I was being extradited under false pretexts,” he wrote.
Although he wouldn’t discuss specifics with the Rocky, Sonnenfeld is quoted by the Argentine newspaper el Pais as saying, “I realized that they were after something else: the tapes of Ground Zero in my possession.”
Sonnenfeld said he was arrested by Interpol agents on the new Denver charges a week after delivering a demo video of 9/11 footage to a TV producer in Argentina.
“I find that extremely coincidental,” he said.
After his arrest, Sonnenfeld spent seven months in Buenos Aires’ Devoto prison, which Time magazine once described as the “darkest penal hellhole in all Argentina.”
While imprisoned, Sonnenfeld said an unidentified man phoned his wife and said “leave things the way they are and you can still have a life.”
Sonnenfeld said he hid copies of his 9/11 videotapes in boxes and furniture he shipped to Argentina when he moved there. But he said the footage he offered to the media was in the public domain.
In other interviews with Argentine media, Sonnenfeld is quoted as saying, “What I saw (at 9/11) leads me to the terrible conclusion that there was foreknowledge of what was going to happen – the precautions that were taken to save certain things that the authorities there considered irreplaceable or invaluable.
“For example, certain things were missing that could only have been removed with a truck. Yet after the first plane hit one of the towers, everything in Manhattan collapsed and no one could have gotten near the towers to do that.”
Sonnenfeld is quoted as saying documentation was removed from U.S. intelligence agencies in the World Trade Center, including the CIA, prior to the attacks. He did not specify how he could have known that.
Sonnenfeld’s allegations have made him a poster child for conspiracy theorists on the Internet, and a number of Web sites use him to bolster their contentions of government involvement in or knowledge about the attacks.
But Jim Chesnutt, fellow -FEMA videographer and a former FEMA spokesman, said he saw no such conspiracy evidence.
“I did not see any damning evidence that would support what he says he saw,” said Chesnutt, who was at the World Trade Center with Sonnenfeld after 9/11.
“At the same time, I do respect Kurt’s position on that,” Chesnutt said. “I didn’t see anything that led me to those conclusions, but I don’t know what he saw.
“We each had free rein to travel throughout the site with the rescuers. We each had different experiences because of the massiveness of the site. We worked independently, and we rarely traveled together.”
‘I am innocent’
In the e-mail interview, Sonnenfeld denied that he is seeking political asylum to avoid being brought back for trial.
“I waited for a trial in 2002,” he said. “I had the truth on my side, and I knew it would finally come out in the courtroom when the people fabricating the case against me were forced to tell the truth under threat of perjury.”
Responded Amico: “I would be more than happy to give him the opportunity to make his case in a district court here in Denver.”
“I am innocent,” Sonnenfeld wrote to the Rocky. “The police know it; the prosecution knows it. This intense campaign to return me to American soil is a false pretext for other darker motives.”
His appeals to Argentine authorities have drawn the interest of human rights groups, including Amnesty International Argentina and the country’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel.
Chesnutt, Sonnenfeld’s former FEMA colleague, said he doesn’t know what to make of the last few years of Sonnenfeld’s life.
“He was a friend of mine. I had great respect for him as a colleague,” Chesnutt said. “What happened in the last few years with him, the year leading up to Nancy’s death, is a huge question mark in my mind.
“I don’t know what happened. And I made no decision about it. I guess now it’s largely between Kurt and God about what has gone on.”
What conspiracy blogs are saying about Sonnenfeld
• The saga of Kurt Sonnenfeld appears to be but one more detail in the sordid tale that has been the US government’s continuing attempts to distort and cover up the massive and growing evidence that the 9/11 attacks were undeniably the work of elements of the US government itself.
• It is also reasonable to suggest that he is (or was on 9/11) an employee of one of the intelligence agencies involved in the perpetration of the attacks.
• Some very strange activity, I think. It’s like they’re chasing him around the globe, using his wife’s suicide (?) as their excuse. What do you suppose they’re after?
• Kurt and his partner Jim had a very strange ‘MO,’ which involved surveilance [sic] … I am fully convinced that Kurt Sonnenfeld was/is an FBI agent! Mary’s [sic] murder is definately [sic] connected to 9/11. I will continue to research this.
• They had NO PROOF because they know he didn’t do it, but they were just trying to use what they could to lock him up and keep him quiet.
IN HIS OWN WORDS: KURT SONNENFELD
• As soon as I returned home (to Denver) after the charge was dismissed and I was released from jail, I began to be harassed constantly. Cars often followed me wherever I drove. Men parked in front of my house for hours. I discovered doors to my house unlocked. Even my outdoor security lights were unscrewed.
• (After he married his second wife, Paula) we intended to return to the U.S. But after months of bureaucratic pitfalls foiling our attempts at obtaining a permanent visa for Paula, we decided to stay awhile. Paula did not particularly want to go to the U.S., and I had lost everything there anyway.
• In late July of 2004, Paula and I delivered a short sample video (from ground zero) to the producers of a very popular television show.
Within days, an “unrestricted” arrest order, accompanied by the extradition request, was delivered to Argentine authorities by the United States embassy.
I had no idea that the dismissed case against me had been refiled and the nightmare had been inexplicably revived.
• In March of 2005, after spending seven more months in prison in Argentina, the extradition request was refused and I was again released from prison.
The campaign to intimidate and harass me and my family has increased significantly since then. I have been tortured, falsely accused and imprisoned, not once but two times, bankrupted, my reputation destroyed by their lies.
My wife, my precious babies and I live as virtual prisoners inside our house because we are afraid for our lives.
And it continues even now.
Sue Lindsay, InformationLiberation.com