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Updated Feb 6, 2014 - 6:08 pm

Hammer slaying trial gets underway in Arizona

PHOENIX — An Arizona woman went on trial Thursday on charges that she
bludgeoned her husband to death with a hammer in what prosecutors said was an
attempt to obtain an insurance settlement to pay a nearly $300,000 loan from her
boyfriend.

Prosecutor Michelle Arino says 36-year-old Marissa Suzanne Devault needed quick
money to get out of her deep financial hole. “The defendant likes money, and
she likes easy money,” Arino said.

But one of Devault’s attorneys raised questions about the credibility of his
client’s boyfriend, who was given an immunity agreement on child pornography
allegations in exchange for his testimony.

Authorities say Devault fatally wounded Dale Harrell by bludgeoning him over
the head with a hammer as he slept in their suburban Phoenix home in January
2009. Harrell, 34, suffered multiple skull fractures and died at a hospice
nearly a month after the attack of complications from his head injuries.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Devault.

Devault, 36, claims she killed her husband in self-defense and told
investigators that he had physically and sexually abused her in the past. But
prosecutors contend that the attack on Harrell was premeditated and say Devault
has given conflicting accounts of her husband’s death. They also say the people
Devault alleged were witnesses to the abuse didn’t back up her claims.

Alan Tavassoli, one of Devault’s attorneys, said prosecutors are giving a pass
to his client’s boyfriend, businessman Allen Flores, even after he failed to
report to police that Devault had allegedly claimed three days before the hammer
attack that her husband had been killed in a tire-iron beating. “He (Flores) is
free and clear for this trial,” Tavassoli said.

At first, Devault told investigators that Harrell had attacked her while she
was asleep and choked her until she was unconscious. She told police that when
she came to, she saw another man who lived at their Gilbert home beating Harrell
with a hammer.

But authorities say bloodstain patterns showed Harrell was alone in the bed at
the time of the attack and that bloodstains on Devault’s clothes were consistent
with a person swinging an object repeatedly over her head.

Investigators say Devault later confessed, saying she attacked her sleeping
husband in a rage after he had sexually assaulted her.

Police say they discovered Devault had been dating another man, Flores, for
more than two years. In a search of Flores’ computer, police say they found a
journal that appeared to be written from his perspective and indicated that he
had given Devault about $7,000 which she used to hire a hit man, according to
court records.

Authorities say child pornography also was found on Flores’ computer. County
prosecutors granted Flores immunity on that allegation in exchange for his
testimony in the murder case. Without such an agreement, Flores was expected to
invoke his right against self-incrimination.

Prosecutors say the immunity agreement doesn’t prevent authorities from filing
pornography charges against Flores. Instead, they say the agreement bars
authorities from using any statement that Flores makes during the murder trial
in a pornography case.

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