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Updated Mar 27, 2014 - 4:22 pm

Closing arguments made at hammer-killing trial

PHOENIX — An Arizona woman on trial in the hammer-beating death of her
husband five years ago carried out the attack in a failed bid to collect on a
life insurance policy, a prosecutor said, urging jurors to reject her claim that
she was defending herself against a sexually abusive husband.

Marissa Suzanne Devault, 36, had planned beforehand to kill her husband, Dale
Harrell, and had even made an earlier unsuccessful attempt to get someone else
to kill him, prosecutor Eric Basta said. Devault wanted to collect on an
insurance policy taken out on her husband because she had to pay back about
$300,000 in loans from her then-boyfriend, Basta said.

“The cold, hard truth is the defendant planned to kill Dale, and she did it,”
he told jurors Thursday during closing arguments at Devault’s trial. “The
motive was money.”

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

Jury deliberation are scheduled to begin Monday morning.

Devault’s attorney, Alan Tavassoli, said his client wouldn’t have received a
dime from the insurance policy, which covered accidental deaths. Tavassoli said
Devault’s former boyfriend, Allen Flores, made incriminating statements about
his client in order to save his own skin, noting that Flores was given an
immunity agreement on child-pornography allegations in exchange for his
testimony.

“There are a lot of things you might not like about her,” Tavassoli said of
his client. “This is not a popularity contest. She’s not running for
cheerleader.”

As the prosecutor made his closing comments, Devault occasionally looked at the
jury. Most of the time, she kept her head down, whispered to her defense team
and scratched out notes with a pencil and pad. She looked at the jury more
frequently when her lawyer summarized his case.

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

But investigators say Devault later confessed, saying she attacked her sleeping
husband in a rage after he had sexually assaulted her. She also told
investigators that Harrell had physically and sexually abused her in the past.

Prosecutors contended that the attack on Harrell was premeditated and said
Devault has given conflicting accounts of her husband’s death. They also said
the people Devault alleged were witnesses to the abuse didn’t back up her
claims.

Devault’s attorney questioned the credibility of Flores, a key prosecution
witness.

Flores, a Yale University-educated management consultant who is 20 years older
than Devault, testified that he met Devault through a matchmaking website where
women seeking financial support get into no-strings-attached relationships with
men who are willing to help them.

Flores provided unflattering testimony about Devault and 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 conducted into
the murder investigation, authorities said.

“He’s got every reason to be untruthful,” Tavassoli said.

During closing arguments, Basta showed jurors crime-scene photos of the bloody
hammer and blood spatter on the walls of the couple’s bedroom. Jurors also saw
an image that showed the physical trauma to Harrell’s brain.

Basta suggested to jurors that Devault had, after the attack, pulled off shorts
that Harrell was wearing.

“Your little rape story doesn’t make any sense if everybody gets there and
he’s dressed,” Basta said.

Tavassoli said there was no evidence at trial that Harrell was wearing shorts,
nor was there an indication that Devault had removed them.

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