In early 2013, the Maricopa County Courthouse in Phoenix, AZ was lined with news cameras, spectators fighting to get into the notorious courtroom and every media organization swirling around one particular case. There were moments when it felt as if this trial was the only one being tried inside the large courthouse perched downtown. It was the trial of Jodi Arias, a woman who quickly became notorious for killing her ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander by stabbing him nearly 30 times, slitting his throat from ear to ear and shooting him with a gun. It was a story that riveted the walls from inside as the unpredictable Arias herself spent an epic 18 days on the stand. Watching the proceedings was one that left many feeling as if they were part of a rare case where a woman committed such a heinous crime while telling the media “No Jury would ever convict me.” What many did not realize is that while the masses flocked to courtroom 5C, on another floor of the exact same courthouse was a female charged with murder equating to eerie similarities often running parallel to Arias. It’s a case laced with murder, multiple stories, claims of self defense and cries of battered woman syndrome. There are even expert witnesses that walk the line inside both cases and of course don’t forget there are betrayals and lies.
The second woman we are referring to is known as Marissa Devault. Marissa is 36 years old and a mother of three. She married her husband Dale Harrell in 1999 and it wasn’t long into their marriage when the first sign of trouble began. According to Marissa, it was one month and a few days after wedded bliss when she was first abused by Harrell. It was during an argument over her not taking on the last name of Harrell, or willing to give it to her daughter who was supposedly to be adopted by him. Reports by Marissa claims she suffered a fractured skull during that confrontation and ended up at the hospital five days later. This abuse was reportedly repetitive through the duration of their almost ten year marriage, with Marissa saying she found herself in the hospital more than once.
On the evening of January 14, 2009, it was the beginning of the end for Harrell as he was bludgeoned in the head with a claw hammer several times. He was taken to the hospital where he was monitored and unfortunately lost his life on February 9, 2009, just less than a month after his attack. The original story Marissa told investigators was that she had been asleep and awoke to Harrell raping her. She says she then saw a male who lived with them slamming Harrell in the head with a hammer to get him off of her. This roommate is Stanley Cook, a friend Marissa met when she attended DeVry Institute in 2003. Now this is all terrible and one begins to feel sorry for Marissa; however this is not where the story ends. The Trial Divas will tell you to grab a glass of wine as we turn the corner and open up the larger issues that loom around this case. It gets much deeper inside the world of Marissa Devault.
With one story being told and abuse outlined for her defense, Marissa chooses to take the same tactic as Jodi Arias did and…you guessed it, she changes her story. Turns out, “Uncle Stan” wasn’t the one who beat Harrell with the claw hammer on that January night; it was in fact Marissa herself. She later discloses in a 3 hour interview and 300 page confession, that she was the one who willingly grabbed the hammer bashing in Harrell’s skull. She continues with her original claim of him sexually assaulting her, restricting her airways. Marissa describes the attack saying, “It makes it so that I can’t swallow, then I get really dizzy really fast. When I can’t swallow, I can’t make noise either. And I can’t fight.” She recounts the abuse she has survived at the hands of Harrell and says she had enough.
Continuing on with her new version of the story, she is sexually attacked by her husband, Harrell falls asleep a happy man and Marissa uses the restroom. On the way back, she grabs the claw hammer that was resting on the nightstand, because you know we all have one, and begins to hit him in the head with it. In her confession, she informs the detective she didn’t put much thought into it, “I don’t know. I just didn’t want him to touch me” Devault told the detective. “I just wanted him to feel every time he’s ever touched me and I wanted him to know what it felt like.” Marissa was fed up with the abuse and she snapped.
In an attempt to protect her, Stanley Cook tells Marissa he is such a fabulous friend he wants to take the wrap for her. Now that is what we call a loyal comrade. Anybody who is willing to stand up and accept responsibility for such a crime is one person you want to always keep on your Christmas list. Stanley willing went a long with this story, until Marissa grew a conscious and came clean admitting it was all her. After all, if a man has been beating you for nearly ten years and you are defending yourself in the fight for life, wouldn’t you want to stand up and claim that one? Well Marissa did, eventually leaving Stan off the hook. Of course were pretty sure the fact that Harrell ended up dying had quite a bit to do with it…you know it’s one thing to say you beat up a man, but then to have him die. Mr. Cook surely didn’t think that one through very clearly.
As the case continues, it becomes more apparent that Stanley isn’t the only male friend Marissa had. Oh no, turns out in 2007 she had been surfing the internet, stumbles upon an online dating site and meets Allen Flores. They begin having an extra marital affair for the next two years. Now this is where it gets real interesting. Mr. Flores adored Marissa so much he gave her a loan in the amount of $362,000….what a man! So now we have a friend who is willing to lie and say he beat your husband for you, another man who throws hundreds of thousands of dollars at you and lastly a husband who abuses you. This is turning out to be quite the quadrangle here. Oh wait, Allen Flores may be weak in the love department but he did do at least one smart thing; he made sure the loan was in writing and even charged Marissa interest. According to court records, the interest rate was a low 2.5%, now that is a steal. One major detail for the prosecution is that the maturity date of this loan was dated for December of 2009.
Just when you think this case is already enticing and juicy enough, it does go further. If Marissa is going to pay back this large sum of money, how did she intend to pay it back? Did she hope her extracurricular activities would eventually suffice as payment or would she really have to pay-off the entire balance? The answer is, we think as much as Allen Flores was having fun with Marissa, he did expect her to satisfy the full amount. This information is critical to the prosecution as it begins to support their theory for motive.
On January 1, 2009, just 13 days before Dale Harrell’s attack, there was a life insurance policy for Harrell taken out in the amount of $500,000….of course there was. With a looming loan pay-off date around the corner, what better way to reimburse your lover than to kill your husband, collect from his policy and have your BFF go to prison for it? After all, she would still have $138,000 left over. That would buy a few stilettos and at least one Chanel handbag, right?
Unfortunately things did not work out quite that well for Marissa. She eventually realized she was not going to be the recipient of the life insurance policy that was taken out on her husband, so Stanley Cook came to the rescue once again. I’m telling you, we all need a friend like him. Maricopa County court documents reveal a confession made by Cook outlining the events that took place the day after Dale Harrell died. Since it became evident to Marissa she was not going to inherit her now deceased husband’s life insurance money, she concocted another plan to collect on her own life insurance policy that was also valued at $500,000 and taken out on the same day as her husband’s. In what the prosecution claims as an “Insurance Conspiracy” Marissa’s very own policy would pay out in the event of death, dismemberment or paralysis. Since Marissa didn’t want to die (they never do), she had a back-up plan.
In an interview with detectives Cook outlined the conspiracy and how it all went down. “Cook confessed that, as part of a conspiracy he had devised with the defendant, he punched the defendant in the face and smashed her ankle with a sledgehammer. Cook stated that initially the defendant had requested that he shoot her; sustaining spinal paralysis would trigger payment by her life insurance policy. However, Cook ultimately refused. Cook and the defendant then alternatively conspired to stage an attack during which he would injure her face and leg, and then leave her on the street.”
On February 10, 2009, Marissa called the police and reported an attack by an unidentified male, pronouncing she had sustained injuries to her neck and face. Unfortunately, as maniacal as all this sounds, we won’t get to hear this confession during the trial. The judge denied the State’s request to present this insurance conspiracy due to unfair prejudice. Apparently there is no other evidence outside of Stanley’s confession regarding the staged attack and he tells the court that due to a head injury he obtained back in 1998, he has forgotten the incident and can no longer recall the arrangement between him and Marissa to paralyze her for insurance money, how convenient. Although the judge did rule that the State could bring this up on rebuttal if it is relevant. Let’s all hold up a wine glass and cheers to it being relevant on rebuttal.
One final element in this bizarre tale is the computer owned by Allen Flores. As the defense began searching for evidence on one of Flores’s technical devices he so frequently used for online dating, they shockingly stumbled upon child pornography. Oh yes Divas and Divos this instantly makes Flores creepy and in big trouble. While nobody expected to find this kind of information, the details of those victims are sealed in the court to protect their identity. On the other hand, Flores has been offered some form of immunity in exchange for his cooperation. This does make it a bit frightening to think a man who had child pornography on his computer is still able to have access to the internet, after all with his lady love locked up were sure he is perusing the dating sites for a new extramarital affair to start.
One of the expert witnesses from the Jodi Arias trial that we are all familiar with is Dr. Cheryl Karp. She was also utilized for this case as well. There is word that Janeen DeMarte was hired by the State as an expert witness and we all know how that went last time. According to court records, this case continues to be reminiscent of Arias in the claims the defense is making in the domestic violence arena. In the Marissa Devault trial the defense will be using battered women syndrome and has said in court documents that they will “offer a domestic violence theory of justification.”
If medical records are obtained that can prove the domestic violence assertions by Marissa, this will help her case drastically. While the court does show some records attempting to be retrieved, Investigating Officer Michael Bishop at one point testified in a hearing that he had not been able to find any records to support certain claims of abuse Marissa had disclosed. This does not mean they are not present, it only substantiates that investigators could not find information they were attempting to collect. This subject will be one to watch for as it could be influential to the jury in this case.
Marissa Devault is charged with first degree murder and is facing the death penalty. It is imperative to recognize that one is always innocent until proven guilty, so as unbalanced as this case seems it is important for the criminal justice system to keep an open mind and look at all evidence. How would your thoughts on the trial be if it is supported that Dale Harrell had physically and emotionally abused Marissa and she finally just snapped. Would it change your perception of the case? Not saying she had or anyone has a right to kill, just curious if it offers one to have more compassion towards a true victim of domestic violence.
One thing is for sure, The Trial Divas will be at this trial, which is scheduled to begin on February 6, 2014. It will be one case that will take us through many different topics of discussion. While Jodi Arias had ninjas, skateboarders with screwdrivers and many elements similar to Marissa, this case seems oddly more fascinating in the fact that Marissa didn’t really try to cover anything up that well. We have to give it to Jodi; at least she put the camera in the washer and disposed of the weapon. All Marissa could do was think about becoming a paraplegic to gain money and ask to be shot, definitely not worthy of any dollar amount if you ask us. So, all you fantabulous Divas and Divos, set your calendar as we get ready for this next big trial of women and crime and even though we don’t have Juan Martinez prosecuting we have heard the prosecution has the same drive as Juan. This trial should keep you enthralled and at least carry you over until Jodi’s re-trial in March. Until opening arguments begin, The Trial Divas xoxo