Arizona Woman Found Guilty In Hammer Beating Death

A Phoenix-area jury on April 8, 2014, found Marissa DeVault, 36, guilty of first-degree murder in beating her husband to death with a hammer in 2009. KPNX-TV, Phoenix

A jury found Marissa Devault, 36, of Gilbert, Ariz., guilty of killing her husband with a claw hammer.(Photo: Patrick Breen, The Arizona Republic)


PHOENIX — An Arizona woman was found guilty Tuesday of first-degree murder in killing her husband with a hammer.

A Maricopa County Superior Court jury will return at 10 a.m. Wednesday to consider aggravating factors that will determine if Marissa DeVault, 36, receives the death penalty.

DeVault attacked Dale Harrell with a claw hammer Jan. 14, 2009, in the bedroom of their Gilbert, Ariz. home that night. She claimed that he was abusive, that he had choked her and that he had forced himself on her sexually, according to police and prosecutors.

Harrell, 34, did not die immediately. He was recovering from the brain injuries but had been weakened by a stroke and two heart attacks when he died three weeks after the attack of a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot to the lungs, according to testimony from a medical examiner.

Details of the case were sordid.

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Prosecutors believe that DeVault killed Harrell for insurance money, in part to pay off more than $360,000 she had borrowed from a man, Allen Flores, she met on a website that matches "sugar daddies" to women in financial need.

DeVault tried to blame the attack on a brain-damaged friend who shared the house with her and her husband, and he even signed a confession. Prosecutors opined that DeVault had asked for the false confession to collect the insurance.


Marissa DeVault listens Feb. 20, 2014, to a former boyfriend testify in Maricopa County Superior Court. (Photo: Tom Tingle, The Arizona Republic)

DeVault also tried to enlist a former lover to kill her husband, prosecutors said. That man testified that DeVault wanted him to "take care of" Harrell though he was not entirely sure what that meant and didn't want to have anything to do with DeVault anyway.

The woman had told elaborate stories to friends and family about inheriting money, and she told people, possibly including her husband, that Flores was her dead stepfather's gay lover. In fact, her stepfather was neither dead nor gay, and Flores was her lover.

Flores was assured that he could not incriminate himself by testifying against DeVault for any advice he gave her on insurance or help editing the false confession letter. Instead, he was portrayed as a victim and was granted partial immunity from being prosecuted for child pornography found on his personal computer.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery has averred repeatedly that Flores still can be prosecuted for the child pornography, most recently at a press conference last week in which he discussed his office's hard-nosed stance against child porn.

A forensic computer specialist that the defense had hired discovered the pornography on Flores' computer. Despite Montgomery's avowals, his prosecutors filed motions claiming that the pornography discovery on Flores' computer was a violation of Flores' Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure.

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DeVault's daughter, who was 13 at the time of the murder, testified that her household was "tumultuous" and that Harrell was frequently abusive to DeVault, something that none of the couple's friends and neighbors had seen. The daughter also commented on the infidelities of both of her parents.

The trial itself has been also tumultuous.

Judge Roland Steinle removed the jury from the courtroom on numerous occasions to scold lawyers on both sides for gamesmanship.

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