April 10, 2014
PHOENIX (AP) — Jurors who convicted an Arizona woman of fatally beating her husband with a hammer are scheduled to resume their deliberations Thursday over whether she warrants the death penalty.
The jury at Marissa Devault’s trial has already spent one day considering whether there were “aggravating factors” that would make her eligible for execution for the 2009 death of Dale Harrell.
If such factors are found, jurors will hear testimony from witnesses and arguments from lawyers over whether she should be sentenced to life in prison or to death. But if those factors aren’t found, a judge will sentence Devault to either the rest of her life in prison or life in prison with the possibility of release after 25 years.
Prosecutors say Devault should face the death penalty because she carried out the crime in an especially cruel manner for the purpose of collecting on life insurance, pointing out that Devault caused a fist-size hole in Harrell’s skull.
Defense attorneys say Devault never filed any claim in Harrell’s death and added that the insurance money theory is undermined by the fact that one of the two policies in question covered only accidental deaths – and Harrell’s death wasn’t an accident.
While lawyers made arguments Wednesday over whether she was eligible for execution, Devault whispered to her defense team and often looked away from the jury.
If jurors keep the death penalty on the table, the penalty portion of the trial is expected to stretch into next week and include appearances from Devault’s mother and grandmother, both of whom will testify on her behalf. Some of Devault’s daughters also have written letters that are expected to be read in court.
Prosecutors say Devault killed Harrell in a failed bid to collect on a life insurance policy to repay about $300,000 in loans from her boyfriend. Devault says she killed her husband in self-defense and told investigators that he had physically and sexually abused her in the past.
Harrell, 34, suffered multiple skull fractures in the January 2009 attack at the couple’s home in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert. He died nearly a month later at a hospice because of complications from his head injuries.
Devault initially told investigators that her husband attacked her while she was asleep and choked her until she was unconscious. She also told police that when she woke up, she saw another man who lived at their home beating Harrell with a hammer.
But authorities say Devault, 36, confessed to the killing after bloodstain evidence showed Harrell was alone in the bed at the time of the attack.
The key prosecution witness was Devault’s former boyfriend, Allen Flores, a Yale University-educated management consultant who is 20 years older than Devault and had loaned her $300,000 during their two-year relationship.
Flores testified that Devault wanted to either hire someone to kill Harrell, or kill him herself and tell police he tried to rape her after a night of drinking.
Devault’s attorneys attacked Flores’ credibility, noting he was given an immunity agreement on child-pornography allegations in exchange for his testimony. The child pornography was found on Flores’ computer during a search that was part of the murder investigation, authorities said.