PHOENIX - An Arizona woman on trial in the hammer-beating death of her husband five years ago carried out the attack in a failed bid to collect on a life insurance policy, a prosecutor said, urging jurors to reject her claim that she was defending herself against a sexually abusive husband.
Marissa Suzanne Devault, 36, had planned beforehand to kill her husband, Dale Harrell, and had even made an earlier unsuccessful attempt to get someone else to kill him, prosecutor Eric Basta said. Devault wanted to collect on an insurance policy taken out on her husband because she had to pay back about $300,000 in loans from her then-boyfriend, Basta said.
"The cold, hard truth is the defendant planned to kill Dale, and she did it," he told jurors Thursday during closing arguments at Devault's trial. "The motive was money."
Devault fatally wounded Harrell by bludgeoning him over the head with a hammer as he slept in their suburban Phoenix home in January 2009, authorities said. Harrell, 34, suffered multiple skull fractures and died at a hospice nearly a month after the attack of complications from his head injuries.
Jury deliberations are scheduled to begin Monday morning.
Devault's attorney, Alan Tavassoli, said his client wouldn't have received a dime from the insurance policy, which covered accidental deaths. Tavassoli said Devault's former boyfriend, Allen Flores, made incriminating statements about his client in order to save his own skin, noting that Flores was given an immunity agreement on child-pornography allegations in exchange for his testimony.
"There are a lot of things you might not like about her," Tavassoli said of his client. "This is not a popularity contest. She's not running for cheerleader."
As the prosecutor made his closing comments, Devault occasionally looked at the jury. Most of the time, she kept her head down, whispered to her defense team and scratched out notes with a pencil and pad. She looked at the jury more frequently when her lawyer summarized his case.
Devault initially told investigators that her husband had attacked her while she was asleep and choked her until she was unconscious. She also told police that when she came to, she saw another man who lived at their home beating Harrell with a hammer.
But investigators say Devault later confessed, saying she attacked her sleeping husband in a rage after he had sexually assaulted her. She also told investigators that Harrell had physically and sexually abused her in the past.
Prosecutors contended that the attack on Harrell was premeditated and said Devault has given conflicting accounts of her husband's death. They also said the people Devault alleged were witnesses to the abuse didn't back up her claims.
Devault's attorney questioned the credibility of Flores, a key prosecution witness.
Flores, a Yale University-educated management consultant who is 20 years older than Devault, testified that he met Devault through a matchmaking website where women seeking financial support get into no-strings-attached relationships with men who are willing to help them.
Flores provided unflattering testimony about Devault and 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 conducted into the murder investigation, authorities said.
"He's got every reason to be untruthful," Tavassoli said.
During closing arguments, Basta showed jurors crime-scene photos of the bloody hammer and blood spatter on the walls of the couple's bedroom. Jurors also saw an image that showed the physical trauma to Harrell's brain.
Basta suggested to jurors that Devault had, after the attack, pulled off shorts that Harrell was wearing.
"Your little rape story doesn't make any sense if everybody gets there and he's dressed," Basta said.
Tavassoli said there was no evidence at trial that Harrell was wearing shorts, nor was there an indication that Devault had removed them.