Transcribed Episode / S3 EP33: Amber & Josh Hilberling
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In America, we’ve been indirect witnesses to quite a few public volatile and violent relationships. Many years ago we witnessed the deteriorated and ultimately fatal relationship of OJ Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson play out in a very public courtroom. We heard about how South African sprint runner, Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the bathroom of their home, claiming that he thought she was an intruder. And most recently we were witness to the tumultuous relationship and murder-suicide of Brian Laundrie and Gabrielle Petito.
In each of these relationships, it was clear by friends and family that there were issues and that emotions were heightened. Oftentimes the individuals involved in an abusive relationship know that they’re in an unhealthy relationship, but don’t know how to get out, and don’t know how to seek the help and support they truly need. If and when they do choose to stay, many times things can escalate to such a degree that someone gets hurt, or even killed.
Amber Michelle Fields, was born October 1, 1991 in Joplin Missouri, to parents Michael and Rhonda Fields. When Amber was three months old, her parents moved the family to Tulsa Oklahoma. Although the Fields were a religious family who would regularly attend church, the environment inside the home was not as ideal. Amber would be witness to her father being abusive to her mother on several occasions. Her parents would end up divorcing when she was twelve years old and Amber’s mother filed a protective order against her father. Both parents remarried with her mother remaining in Tulsa and her father moving to Wheaton Missouri. Amber had two siblings, Adam and Ariel, and had a half sister Kayla Shoemaker and three step sisters: Haylee Whitlock, Corynne Whitlock and Emery Whitlock.
Amber was described by her family as being spunky, intelligent and strong willed. She loved to read books and watch movies, was interested in history, fashion, and hair and makeup, and had an affinity for shoes. In school, Amber excelled, maintained a 4.0 grade point average and participated in several extracurricular activities such as soccer, volleyball, track and dance.
In early 2010, when Amber was 18 years old, she met 21 year old Joshua Blaine Hilberling at a party in downtown Tulsa. Josh was born on May 30 1988 to Patrick and Jeanne Hilberling, and had three brothers, Zach, Scott and David and two sisters, Carrie and Nikki. Standing at a tall 6 foot 4 inches, Josh had striking good looks, was athletic, and enjoyed football, sports and playing video games. Unfortunately Josh’s homelife was not the healthiest either, as Josh’s mother has stated that Josh’s father was abusive as well.
After Josh graduated from Victory Christian High School in Tulsa Oklahoma - where he played football - he enrolled in the United States Air Force. He left for basic training in San Antonio at Lackland Air Force Base in May 2010, followed by civil engineering training in Wichita Falls Texas. While in training in Texas, he would head up to Tulsa to visit Amber on the weekends, and she would write to Josh as often as she could.
Following his training, Josh was given his next assignment - he was going to be stationed at Eielson (Aisle-son) Air Force Base in Alaska. With the prospect of Josh having to move to Alaska, that meant that he would be quite a distance from Amber and they didn’t want to allow that to happen, so in June of 2010 they got married. In October of that same year they both made the move to Alaska, but had to stay in a hotel for a month while their home was being built. The following month they would move into their home, about 25 miles southeast of Fairbanks. It was there that they found out they were expecting their first child.
But the exciting news of a growing family was tainted when Josh, after being in the service for only 9 months, began using the painkiller Oxycontin for recreational use, and also began selling the painkiller Roxicodone, in order to make some extra cash. The constant drug use and Josh’s habit of staying out late at night partying and going to strip clubs, started to cause fights among the couple.
Things were off to a very rocky start, and although they were deeply in love, their drastically different personalities - with Amber being extroverted and strong willed and Josh being more passive and subdued - only fueled their disagreements. They fought constantly, and Amber would confide in and share her troubled relationship with her mother.
The military police had been called several times to their home, as their arguments started to get physical. Amber told her mother she was getting slapped, kicked and thrown against the wall. Another time she’d called her parents crying when Josh threw a plate because he wasn’t happy with his dinner.
In January 2011, Amber filed a complaint with the military police that Josh grabbed her breast trying to break one of her breast implants, before she was able to run to the neighbors for help - Josh admitted that he did this to police.
They ended up seeking out marriage counseling, and once they moved into their new home, things seemed to be improving. It wasn’t long though, that the military discovered Josh’s drug use, and he was honorably discharged from the military.
With Josh being out of work right out of the military and having no job and little money, they moved temporarily in with Amber’s mother Rhonda in Tulsa Oklahoma. At the time, Amber wanted to continue her education, so she enrolled in Rose State College.
After a short time, Rhonda discovered Josh’s drug use, wasn’t going to tolerate that in her home and told Josh to leave. Not wanting her daughter to be homeless, she told them they could stay at her spare apartment at the University Club Tower Apartments in Tulsa.
The University Club Tower was one of Tulsa’s older high-rise apartment buildings. Built in 1966 it had an interesting cylindrical design, contained 32 floors, was 377 feet tall and had an attached parking garage directly underneath it.
According to Amber, the discharge from the military and the fact that he couldn’t get a job, caused Josh to start using drugs again as well as selling them as a means of income.
On an episode of the UK’s Channel 4 documentary show “Women Who Kill”, Amber spoke about her and Josh’s relationship: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj7VpYZLtlE
In the summer of 2011, they had moved into the University Club Tower, and were living in apartment #2509, on the 25th floor.
In May 2011, Amber and Josh got into an argument where she’d thrown a lamp at him, causing a deep laceration that required stitches and staples. Josh filed a protection from abuse order because of that, which ended up being dismissed 2 weeks later because both of them failed to show in court. By this time, both Amber and Josh were occasionally using drugs, which only amplified their disagreements.
On June 4th, Josh told Amber he was planning on going on a trip with friends to Tennessee to attend a concert. Because he didn’t have a job they began arguing about how he was going to pay for the trip - and Amber being 7 months pregnant, knew they needed whatever extra money they had to purchase a crib. Since they moved into their new apartment, Josh had spent several nights staying with friends, and Amber would often call or stay with her grandmother Gloria while he was away.
On June 6th, they continued to disagree about the Tennessee trip. Amber’s father was getting married that same weekend as the trip and Amber was upset that Josh chose to miss that to be with his friends. After one of their arguments, she called her grandmother Gloria crying, saying that she was going to file for divorce from Josh and move back in with her mother. That night, Josh came home late after midnight and the two didn’t discuss it any further and went to bed.
The following morning, with tensions still at a high, Josh packed up some of his belongings into a duffle bag and called his father to come and pick him up. They only had one car which was Amber’s mother’s car, so he needed a ride. According to his father Patrick, when they spoke Josh told him that he was leaving Amber and wanted to get a divorce. Patrick told his son he couldn’t come and get him because he was at work, but told him that he needed to call DVIS, the Domestic Violence Intervention Group for help. Josh then decided to call one of his friends instead to come and get him.
In the meantime, Amber was on the phone with her grandmother again, saying that she was coming over to her house to get out of Josh’s way and that she was going to bring some laundry with her since they didn’t have a washer or dryer.
Once off the phone, Amber and Josh began talking about him leaving the house, and she told him that if he was leaving, he needed to find a new place to stay when he came back. It was her mother’s apartment and he needed to give her mother back the key. The conversation escalated and the topic moved to Josh’s drug use with Amber accusing Josh of going to Tennessee to sell drugs - which Josh denied.
Amber got prepared to leave for Gloria’s house but before she picked up the clothes hamper, she reached inside and started picking out Josh’s clothes out of the hamper, telling him she wasn’t going to do his laundry anymore. Enraged by this, he picked up the basket and dumped the clothes out and threw the basket across the room, hitting the bedroom window, shattering it.
Amber called the building’s maintenance and told them about the broken window, and they confirmed they would have maintenance come up that same day to repair it. She swept up the broken glass and when she came out of the bedroom, they continued to argue. She became so upset that she went into the bathroom and cried so hard that she threw up. Josh texted his friends asking them if they could hurry to come and get him.
It was a few minutes later that Armando Rosales, the window repairman, knocked on the front door. He came in and quoted the couple $150 to repair the window. Rosales recalled that when he told them how much, the man got very angry and asked his wife if her mother would be paying for it. They agreed to have it repaired, and Rosales went to work right away replacing the window. Meanwhile, Amber and Josh had moved to the living room where they continued arguing - Rosales, just outside the apartment bedroom window working, recalled that he could hear them yelling at each other.
In the couple’s small living room was a tv stand up against a wall with a small flat screen tv on it. To the left of the tv stand were two large windows that took up most of the living room wall. Vertical blinds covered the two windows and they were closed. A white futon-style sofa was against the opposite wall facing the television and a small round glass coffee table was in front of it. red accent chair was nestled between the two large windows. No step-out balcony or false balcony was attached to the outside of the living room windows.
It was around 4pm when according to Amber’s recollection, they were arguing when she screamed at Josh that he was a “coward.” With that insult, Josh lunged at her and grabbed her by the shoulders. As a reaction to this, Amber put her hands on his chest and shoved him back - hard. Josh staggered backwards, tripping over his footing and into the tv stand behind him, and continued staggering backwards, crashing into the glass of the living room window of the apartment. The glass shattered immediately upon impact. Amber ran towards him and tried to grab at him, catching only his foot in her hand, but his weight pulled her to the window, causing the glass to cut her arm, and his foot slipped out of his shoe. Josh fell 17 stories onto the parking garage below. Amber screamed out, “oh my god, oh my god.”
Just prior to this happening, Rosales, who was still working on the window in the bedroom, heard sounds that made him think the man was hitting the woman, he was prepared to go and check on her when he heard “scuffling” in the living room followed by a loud crash. He ran into the room and saw the open window with the broken vertical blinds. At that moment, he got a phone call from his partner Antonio De Paz, who was outside the building on the ground floor in his truck and told Rosales he just saw someone fall out the window. "Oh my god," Rosales said, "he jumped."
Rosales then rushed out of the apartment and ran into Amber in the hallway heading towards the elevator. She was crying and screaming “oh my god, oh my god, is he dead?” over and over. He went down in the elevator with her, and when it opened, he yelled at someone nearby to call 911. Amber headed to the parking garage and rushed to where Josh had landed on the parking garage floor.
A witness to the incident called 911: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj7VpYZLtlE
By this time, other people began to gather in the garage as well. Some were residences of the apartment who had felt what they thought was an earthquake, but it was actually Josh’s body hitting the parking garage with such velocity that it shook the building. A witness at the scene recalled hearing Amber say "Josh, I didn't mean to! "I didn't mean to push you! Wake up!" and saw her pull Josh over onto his back as she continued to scream out "someone fix him!"
Officer Don Holloway of the Tulsa Police as well as the Tulsa Fire Department received the call from dispatch, and made their way to the apartment complex: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj7VpYZLtlE
Officer Holloway, along with a Tulsa firefighter, arrived on scene and walked onto the 8th floor parking garage of the University Club Tower building. When they arrived at the parking garage, Amber was there, standing over Josh, and she was hysterical.
The firefighter testified that Amber said: "I didn't mean to do it. I didn't mean to push him out the window."
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Josh was lying face up on the concrete, with bones protruding from his broken body and his cell phone laying by his side. They managed to pull Amber away from him - they took his vitals but he had had died on impact.
Amber, still hysterical, threw up and fainted, and the medics tended to her as they prepared Josh to be taken to the hospital. She asked one of the medics if she could use their phone to call her grandmother. She called Gloria and asked her to come to her apartment right away. Witnesses overhead her say: "Josh fell out the window. I pushed him and he fell out the window! I didn't mean to push him! I'm going to jail!"
Josh was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead of his injuries. The officers at the scene then took Amber and her grandmother to the police station for questioning. The two were taken into an interrogation room and left alone. While in the room, they were secretly, but lawfully, being video recorded, and Amber began crying and telling her grandmother what had happened:
Once officers came into the room, Amber told them she was not going to answer questions and invoked her right to an attorney. They then let her leave with her grandmother.
An investigation into the incident was immediately launched:
Play Nancy Grace: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj7VpYZLtlE
Window and glass experts were called in to analyze the apartment window. The window was measured to be 2 feet, 2 inches off of the floor and was 4 feet, 4 inches tall. A detective at the apartment noted that nothing in the apartment was out of place, and there were no signs of a struggle.
A gorgeous young couple has a brutal fight that ends up with the death of a young man who is seemingly “pushed” out of an apartment window - this was a story the media couldn’t pass up. The media painted Amber as a spoiled, rich, spousal abuser and painted Josh as a military hero, always displaying photos of him in uniform.
After police reviewed the damning secretly recorded interrogation room video, and after an initial investigation at the crime scene, Amber was arrested on June 8, 2011 and charged with first degree murder which was later changed to second degree murder, and was released on bond. Her bond was revoked 6 months later after she failed two drug tests and failed to keep her ankle monitor charged on 10 different occasions. She admitted that she’d smoked marijuana prior to her re-arrest.
Two months after her arrest she would give birth to their son, Levi Carter, on August 6, 2011.
The state of Oklahoma proposed two plea deals to Amber: one for 5 years in prison with 15 years probation, and another for 7 years probation. She turned them both down because she believed that she wasn’t guilty, and that a person who is not guilty is "going to take any risk that is necessary to prove it." Amber was headed to trial.
As the trial began, she had already been judged by the media, and was now being vilified by what she chose to wear for trial - she would come to court with blown out blonde wavy hair, tight skirts, and high heels. She said that if she would dress down, she would get criticized for that, if she dressed up and looked nice, she would still get judged and criticized, there was no satisfying them.
During the trial, Amber’s defense team argued that she was defending herself after Josh lunged at her and grabbed her by the shoulders. They also claimed the windows in the 45 year old high rise building were unusually thin and had never been replaced from the original windows that were installed.
Glass experts testified to the fact that the glass in the windows was not laminated or was tempered safety glass and glass does in fact become more fragile over time. The experts stated that there were two layers of glass, each 3, 30 seconds of an inch thick, separated by 3/16th of an inch, and that the glass was weak and the gasket and seal around the windows had deteriorated over time.
Two video tapes were played in court - one of the crime scene which included the garage location where Josh fell, along with photos from the medical examiner of his broken body - photos of the autopsy were not displayed in court - and another video of Amber in the interrogation room as she spoke with her grandmother.
Several witnesses would testify at trial, saying that Amber was hysterical and distraught and was screaming “My husband fell out the window! I pushed my husband out the window! I killed my husband.” They also testified that they saw her turn him over and kiss him.
A neighbor who lived underneath the Hilberlings testified that she heard running, a loud crash then a woman screaming, bolstering the prosecution's theory that Amber charged across the floor and purposefully shoved Josh, propelling him out the window.
A prison inmate Bonnie Fulton (or Lamdon), testified while she was in the Tulsa County jail with Amber awaiting her trial, that Amber told her Josh was going to move out and she caught him off guard and "killed the bastard." But the prosecutor tried to discredit the witness by outlining her extensive criminal history which included 20 felony convictions, including lying.
The glass repairman, Armando Rosales, who was at the Hilberling's apartment when the incident occurred, corroborated Amber’s claim that the large pane was in fact thinner than what is typically used in high rise windows, that it wasn’t much stronger than the panes used in standard home windows.
In defense of her daughter’s actions, Amber’s mother Rhonda Whitlock testified, suggesting at the time that her petite, 5 ft, 5 inch daughter, who was 19 years old and 7 months pregnant, could not have pushed the much larger 6ft 4, muscular, 225 pound Josh to his death.
She said that her daughter was painted by the media as the “aggressor” during the argument, but that it was actually Josh. She claimed that he was a drug user, and that he was abusive, manipulating and controlling and recounted the incidents that she witnessed herself and that she heard from Amber.
Joshua Lanter, the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy, indicated that Josh had broken bones in both his arms and both his legs, and that most of his ribs were broken, along with his sternum, his pelvis and his neck. He also had numerous internal injuries, bruised lungs, a lacerated liver and spleen and injured kidneys. However, he could not ascertain whether or not he came out of the window facing forward or back first. If he fell facing backwards, that would coincide with Amber’s story of pushing him in the chest and he fell backwards, if he fell face first that would mean she pushed him from behind and it wasn’t self defense. No drugs were found in Josh’s system.
Prosecutors pointed to the fact that Josh was alive the entire time he fell the 17 stories to his death, landing on the 8th floor parking garage below.
Amber took the stand in her own defense, telling the jury that she didn't intend to kill her husband by pushing him out a window and that she loved him "more than anything.” She said that she was the one who wanted to leave the relationship.
She was asked by the Prosecution to explain how the neighbor reported hearing the sound of running followed by a loud crashing sound the afternoon of the incident and Amber responded by saying that maybe what that person heard was the sound of her husband tripping backwards over his own feet. She stated that she remembered pushing her husband and then recalled seeing a broken window, but she said she did it in self defense and it was accidental.
Unfortunately for Amber she did not have the best defense team - her lawyer Jason Corns or now Jasen Elias, had never tried a criminal case before which was a major concern for her family and they wanted to fire him, but she said that she trusted Elias, that he was a family friend and that she didn’t have the heart to fire him.
Elias had several run-ins with the law prior to and following the trial. In April 2017, he was charged with allowing a 16-year-old female friend of his daughter’s to drink alcohol at his residence. The charges were eventually dropped.
That wasn’t his own legal trouble - in 2009 he failed a sobriety test while driving and refused to give his identification to the officer. He pled guilty to obstructing an officer and actual physical control of a vehicle while intoxicated. He also pled guilty to another DUI in 2013. Then in 2015 allegations that he bilked a 91-year-old client out of more than $1.4 million caused him to surrender his law license.
During the trial, Elias would frequently have to confer with Amber’s other defense attorneys Clark Brewster and Guy Fortney. He would often walk behind the bar in the courtroom to talk with them and hand them notes.
The defense argued that investigators failed to test flesh, blood and hair that remained on the window sill for DNA. They said it could only have come from one person and the prosecution stated that DNA wouldn’t explain why Amber pushed Josh.
In March 18, 2013 after the jury deliberated for only 2.5 hours following a weeklong trial, Amber was found guilty of 2nd degree murder and the jury recommended a sentenced of 25 years in prison.
At her sentencing hearing the defense asked the judge for mercy, saying that testimony during trial showed that Amber expressed "shock, surprise, grief and anguish over the actions that led to death," and that both Amber and Josh were barefly out of their teens and made mistakes, and were bringing a baby into the world when they themselves were really still babies.
They also stated that the couple’s son, who was then 18 months old, would be about 22 years old by the time his mother would be released from prison if she served the full 25 years.
The following month the judge accepted the jury’s suggestion and sentenced Amber to 25 years at the Mabel Bassett Facility in McLoud Oklahoma. In addition to her sentence, the judge ordered her to pay more than $6,000 for Josh’s funeral expenses and a $10,000 fine.
In 2012 Amber filed a lawsuit against the University Club Tower for alleged negligence stemming from the "dangerously unsafe" glass and that the window was not made of the type of glass required by the city of Tulsa building code, but the lawsuit was dismissed in 2015.
Three years later, on Feb. 4, 2016, Dr Phil interviewed Amber in prison and he asked her if she pushed Josh out of the window:
Play Amber talking to Dr Phil: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7ONiHZ369o
Whether it was living with the prospect of spending the next 20+ years in prison, or living with the fact that she was the cause of Josh’s death, Amber Hilberling succumbed to her inner demons and on October 24th, 2016, a mere 43 months after her conviction, she was found hanging from the bunk bed of her cell by another inmate at 5:20pm and was pronounced dead at 5:33pm. She had used an electrical cord from a hair iron, and her death was ruled a suicide by hanging. When toxicology came back, it showed she had methamphetamine, trace amphetamine and citalopram in her bloodstream as well as linear scars on left wrist and forearm.
Rhonda believes her daughter’s statements in the interrogation room that were included as evidence during trial were taken out of context. They never focussed on the fact that Amber said that she did not intentionally push him. She also said that the police had been called several times by Amber and that this fact was not presented at trial. Josh’s drug history was also not introduced and the protective order from Josh was allowed to be brought up at trial, indicating that it was Amber who had a history of abuse.
It was obvious that Amber and Josh’s relationship was tumultuous and volatile. Both individuals were taking drugs, which could have certainly enhanced any emotions they were experiencing, and both were abusive towards each other.
Regardless of if you believe that Amber is guilty of murder or if you believe it was an accident, this case is a cautionary tale to never talk to the police, always obtain a lawyer. If you’re in a police department, even if the police aren’t present in the same room with you, assume you are being recorded and that anything you say could possibly be used against you in court - whether or not you’re guilty.
Josh’s family reacted to Amber’s death by posting on Facebook writing: “We heard that Amber Hilberling hung herself in prison this evening. We know how it feels to lose a child. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. It’s something no parent should have to experience. Condolences to those who loved her.”
Amber’s mother, Rhonda, added her own Facebook post after her daughter’s death writing: “Fly baby girl to the angels, away from the pain on this earth. I hate what this world did to you, go rest in the arms of Jesus…the media, the haters, the Hilberling’s got their wish. Hope they are happy. I will never stop fighting for the truth.”
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