A woman was convicted of first-degree murder on Tuesday for bludgeoning her husband to death with a hammer in what prosecutors said was a failed bid to collect on a life insurance policy to repay about US$300,000 in loans from her boyfriend.
The same jury that convicted Marissa Devault is now to decide whether to sentence her to life in prison or the death penalty in the 2009 killing of Dale Harrell.
Wearing a dark pantsuit and glasses, Devault sat facing the jury and remained expressionless as the verdict was read during a brief hearing in Phoenix, Arizona. Jurors deliberated for five-and-a-half days.
“This was the verdict I was hoping for,” said Amy Dewey, who lived with Devault and Harrell for about four months in the late 1990s and attended the trial as a way to honor the victim’s memory.
Dewey was once a friend of Devault, but their relationship eventually soured.
A hearing was to begin yesterday to establish if there were “aggravating factors” in the case, which will determine whether Devault is eligible for a death sentence.
The case had many salacious elements, including testimony about plots to hire a hit man, Devault’s former job as stripper and her meeting her boyfriend on a sugar-daddy dating Web site.
Devault maintains that she killed in self-defense, and told investigators that her husband had physically and sexually abused her in the past.
Yet prosecutors contend the attack on Harrell was premeditated and say Devault gave conflicting accounts of her husband’s death.
Harrell, 34, suffered multiple skull fractures in the January 2009 attack at the couple’s home in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert. He died about 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.
However, 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 their head.
Investigators say Devault later confessed to attacking her husband, saying she pummeled him in a rage as he slept after he sexually assaulted her.
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 US$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, saying 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.