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Updated Jan 22, 2014 - 3:04 pm

Trial begins for Arizona woman accused of killing husband with hammer

PHOENIX -- Five years ago, an Arizona woman was arrested on allegations that she fatally wounded her husband by bludgeoning him over the head with a hammer as he lay asleep in bed.

Marissa Suzanne Devault, 36, claimed the killing of Dale Harrell was an act of self-defense and told investigators that her husband had physically and sexually abused her in the past.

But authorities who contended the killing was premeditated said Devault has given conflicting accounts of her husband's death and that witnesses who Devault claimed had witnessed some of the past abuse didn't back up her claims.

Jury selection began Wednesday in the first-degree murder trial. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. Lawyers are expected to make opening statements during the first week of February. The trial is expected to last until at least April.

Harrell suffered multiple skull fractures in the January 2009 attack in the couple's home in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert. The 34-year-old died nearly a month later at a hospice because of complications from his head injuries.

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 authorities said bloodstain patterns showed Harrell was alone in bed at the time of the attack and that bloodstains on Devault's clothes were consistent with a person swinging an object repeatedly over his or her head.

Investigators said Devault later confessed to attacking her husband as he was asleep, saying she attacked him in a rage as he slept after he had sexually assaulted her.

The other man who lived in the couple's house wasn't charged in Harrell's death. Investigators said the roommate's clothing didn't have bloodstain patterns that would have shown that he was the person who struck Harrell.

Police said they later discovered Devault had been dating another man, Allen Flores, for more than two years. In a search of Flores' computer, police said they found a journal that appeared to be written from Flores' perspective indicating that he had given Devault about $7,000 and that she used it to hire a hit man, according to court records.

Authorities said child pornography also was found on Flores' computer. County prosecutors granted Flores immunity on pornography charges in exchange for his testimony in the murder case. Convictions for such pornography offenses could have carried a decadeslong prison sentence. Without such an agreement, Flores was expected to invoke his right against self-incrimination.

The immunity agreement doesn't prevent authorities from filing pornography charges against Devault. Instead, the agreement bars authorities from using any statement that Flores makes during the murder trial in a pornography case, said Jerry Cobb, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, which is prosecuting Devault.

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