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OB man convicted in his wife’s death found dead in jail cell

Authorities confirmed Friday that a 69-year-old inmate found dead in his protective-custody cell at Vista Jail alongside several suicide notes was convicted wife killer Henry Lisowski.

Fellow prisoners found the former Ocean Beach resident’s body in his bunk about 4 a.m. Thursday, according to the county Medical Examiner’s Office, which released no immediate cause-of-death information.

Homicide detectives were called in to investigate the death of the German-born businessman, as is routine in cases of in-custody fatalities. There was no evidence he was slain, sheriff’s Sgt. Roy Frank said.

Lisowski was due to be sentenced April 1, most likely to a term of life in prison without the possibility of parole, for the March 2008 murder of his 50-year-old estranged spouse, Rosa. Her body has never been found.

The mother of four, who had two young boys by the defendant, disappeared after walking her 6-year-old son to school from her Loma Portal-area apartment.

Three weeks ago, a jury in San Diego found Lisowski guilty of first-degree murder and a special-circumstance allegation of murder for financial gain.

Deputy District Attorney Nicole Cooper told the panel that the defendant followed through on his threats to kill the victim if she didn’t drop her child-support case against him.

According to the prosecution, the defendant had been threatening his estranged spouse’s life for more than a year, at one point telling her, “The children will be without a mother, and I’ll be in jail.”

The day she disappeared, Rosa Lisowski was looking forward to the resolution of the child-support dispute and anticipating a $30,000 disability settlement from a grocery store, Cooper said.

When the victim didn’t return from dropping off her son, friends and family immediately suspected the defendant, she said.

In February 2008, when Henry Lisowski was ordered to pay his wife $1,029 a month, he started to search the Internet for information about poison to kill his wife, Cooper said.

That allegation was corroborated by the couple’s son “Junior,” who said his father gave him some green powder and told him to put it in his mother’s water, the prosecutor said. The child said he poured the substance into the carpet because he thought it was something bad, Cooper said.

Defense attorney Richard Gates maintained that evidence in the case supported his client’s claim that his wife died of injuries she suffered when she fell down a set of steps at his home.

Gates urged jurors to disregard the “incredible” claim that a father would give his then-5-year-old son poison that the child could have ended up ingesting. He said the boy most likely picked up from friends and family the notion that his father killed his mother.

At the time of Rosa Lisowski’s death, her estranged husband was facing an imminent child-support hearing and another proceeding at which he was going to have to disprove contentions that he had underreported his assets by $1.3 million, Cooper said.

After the woman went missing, police looked everywhere for her, eventually finding her blood on a kitchen counter in the defendant’s home, in the trunk of his car and on the inside of the passenger-side door of the vehicle, according to the prosecutor.

Lisowski went to Mexico after his wife disappeared, resurfacing in September 2008 with a letter sent to friends and family giving his version of her death, Cooper said.

The victim’s injuries were not consistent with the supposed accidental fall, Cooper told the jury, but were rather the type of trauma that would result from a violent attack with a hammer or having her head slammed into something by an attacker.

After Judge John Einhorn read the guilty verdicts against him, the defendant thanked his attorney and shook his hand. When Einhorn asked him if he was willing to be sentenced early next month, Lisowski protested his innocence but seemed resigned to his fate.

“Your honor, I did not commit the crime ... but you can sentence me to anything you wish now,” he said.