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Arizona man with 700-year prison sentence gets death penalty

FILE - This undated file booking photo provided but the Arizona Department of Corrections shows Alan Mathew Champagne. (Arizona Department of Corrections via AP, File)

PHOENIX — An Arizona man who had already been sentenced to 700 years in prison was given the death penalty on Wednesday.

Alan Champagne was sentenced after being convicted of first-degree murder. He also received an additional 24 years in prison for convictions of second-degree murder, kidnapping and concealing a dead body.

Champagne, 46, was found guilty of shooting Philmon Tapaha before forcing Tapaha’s girlfriend, Brandi Nicole Hoffner, to smoke methamphetamine in June 2011. He then hanged Hoffner.

Champagne asked his neighbor to build him a plywood box. He put the couple inside and buried the box in his mother’s backyard. A landscaper found the bodies nearly two years later.

Prosecutors wanted the death penalty against Champagne, who was already serving a 700-year sentence for attempted-murder convictions after barricading himself at his mother’s home and opening fire on officers who went to arrest him in March 2012 on an aggravated assault warrant.

He surrendered after he ran out of ammunition. No one was injured.

Champagne has pleaded not guilty to the murder charges.

He previously served 14 years in prison after pleading no-contest to killing a man in 1991 while high on alcohol, LSD and paint fumes.

Prosecutor Ellen Dahl said Champagne rented equipment to make the shallow grave where the plywood box was buried and returned there to pour soap on the ground to try to control the foul odor of the corpses.

Police pulled over Champagne days after the killings and found a bag that reeked of rotting flesh, a bag of lime and Tapaha’s Social Security cards, but they didn’t yet know about the slayings. He was arrested on an unrelated misdemeanor warrant.

Eight months later, while in custody on yet another unrelated case, Champagne was questioned about the disappearance of Tapaha and Hoffner. Investigators had learned about the killings through an anonymous tip.

It’s unclear when police began to suspect that the bodies were buried, though investigators have said Champagne acknowledged burying them during a later conversation with an undercover officer.

The undercover officer spoke with Champagne at the jail seven times in 2012 and 2013. In one conversation, Champagne gave the officer a copy of a police report about Tapaha and Hoffner’s disappearance and said, “This is my problem, know what I mean.”

The break in the case came in March 2013 when the new owner of the home where Champagne’s mother once lived began remodeling and a landscaper using a hoe found the plywood box buried underneath four inches of dirt.

No clear motive has emerged, but police have said Champagne was feuding with Tapaha, 32, about a relationship.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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