PHOENIX — Jurors who convicted an Arizona woman of fatally beating her
husband with a hammer are scheduled to resume deliberations Monday over whether
she warrants the death penalty.
The jury at the trial of Marissa Devault (dev-WAH’) has already spent two days
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 decide 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.
Authorities 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.