PHOENIX — An attorney for an Arizona woman convicted of beating her
husband to death with a hammer pleaded with a jury Tuesday to imprison his
client for life instead of sentencing to death, saying she isn’t a cold-blooded
killer but a victim of an awful childhood.
Jurors heard closing arguments from lawyers in the penalty phase of Marissa
Devault’s trial. The same jury convicted her of first-degree murder earlier this
month for the January 2009 killing of Dale Harrell and will now decide her fate.
Alan Tavassoli, Devault’s lead attorney, echoed his earlier arguments, saying
his client didn’t have a loving, supportive environment as a child. He said she
was raised in an impoverished household by an emotionally abusive mother and was
sexually abused as a child by a relative.
“She was damaged by circumstances beyond her control,” Tavassoli said.
Prosecutor Eric Basta urged jurors to impose the death penalty, saying Devault,
36, has shown no genuine remorse and has consistently lied about the facts of
her case. Basta pointed out that Devault’s account of the killing changed over
time, starting with her blaming a roommate and ending with her acknowledging she
carried out the crime.
The prosecutor said there were no records to support Devault’s claim that she
was sexually abused in the past, though he noted that Devault’s children had
testified that she and Harrell had hit each other.
“There are no circumstances that call for leniency in this case,” Basta said.
Devault rarely looked at jurors as lawyers argued whether she should face the
death penalty and instead whispered to her defense team and used a pencil to
write on a legal pad. On two occasions, she shook her head in disbelief as the
prosecutor addressed jurors.
If Devault is sentenced to death, she would become the third woman sent to
Arizona’s death row.
Prosecutors say Devault killed Harrell in a failed bid to collect on a life
insurance policy to repay more than $300,000 in loans from her boyfriend.
Devault says she killed her husband in self-defense and that Harrell had
physically and sexually abused her in the past.
Harrell, 34, suffered multiple skull fractures in the attack at the couple’s
home in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert. He died nearly a month later at a hospice
of complications from his head injuries.
Devault appealed directly to jurors in a tearful address last week, telling
them that she was sorry for her actions and the pain she has caused Harrell’s
Shortly after the attack, Devault told investigators Harrell attacked her as
she slept 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 Devault later confessed to attacking her husband, saying she pummeled him
in a rage as he slept after he sexually assaulted her.