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Lawyer pleads for life sentence for metro Phoenix woman

PHOENIX -- An attorney for an Arizona woman convicted of fatally beating her husband with a hammer urged jurors Tuesday to spare his client's life.

The lawyer also portrayed Marissa Devault as someone who became warped by a chaotic childhood.

Devault entered the penalty phase of her trial, in which jurors will decide whether to sentence her to life in prison or to execute her for the 2009 death of Dale Harrell in Gilbert.

Devault's attorney, Alan Tavassoli, told jurors that Devault was sexually abused as a child and had no adults who truly protected her.

Prosecutor Eric Basta told jurors that the case boils down to the choices people make in their lives.

The jury concluded Monday that Devault qualifies for execution because she killed Harrell in an especially cruel manner.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

Lawyers are scheduled to make arguments Tuesday over whether an Arizona woman convicted of fatally bludgeoning her husband with a hammer should spend the rest of her life in prison or be sentenced to death.

Jurors have already found that Marissa Devault was eligible for the death penalty because she killed Dale Harrell in an especially cruel manner. Defense lawyers are expected to call some of Devault's family members to testify.

Devault was convicted last week of first-degree murder after jurors deliberated for five and a half days.

Prosecutors said Devault killed Harrell in a failed bid to collect on a life insurance policy to repay more than $300,000 in loans from her boyfriend. Devault says she killed her husband in self-defense and told investigators he had physically and sexually abused her in the past.

Harrell, 34, suffered multiple skull fractures in the January 2009 attack at the couple's home in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert. He died nearly 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.

But investigators said 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 businessman who is 20 years older than Devault and had loaned her more than $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, noting 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.

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