PHOENIX (AP) — A jury on Wednesday spared the life of an Arizona woman convicted of beating her husband to death with a hammer, sentencing her to life in prison instead of the death penalty.
The decision in the penalty phase of Marissa Devault's trial comes after the jury deliberated for about three days since April 22. Devault nodded when jurors were polled about their decision, and she hugged her attorneys before leaving the courtroom smiling.
"We're happy with the decision they made, thank God," defense attorney Andrew Anderson Clemency said outside the courthouse. "They made a decision to spare a life."
A judge scheduled a June 6 hearing where he will formally impose the sentence and decide whether she can be eligible for early release after 25 years.
Devault was convicted April 8 of first-degree murder in the 2009 slaying of Dale Harrell. Prosecutors say Devault killed Harrell in a failed bid to collect on a life insurance policy to repay about $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 attack at the couple's home in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert. He died nearly a month later at a hospice of complications from his head injuries.
Amy Dewey, who lived with Devault and Harrell for about four months in the late 1990s, said she felt justice was served.
"I hope she can stay in prison for the rest of her natural life," Dewey said, adding that her one-time friendship with Devault soured after Devault made abusive comments. "For the family, I hope it means they can heal."
Harrell's relatives and jurors declined to comment.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery praised the jury for the "hard work" they put into the case.
"Imposing the death penalty in any circumstance is difficult and in this one the jurors apparently felt that a life sentence was appropriate," Montgomery said in a statement.
During the sentencing phase of her trial, Devault spoke directly to jurors for 11 minutes. She sobbed and wiped away tears as she said she was sorry for her actions and the pain she has caused Harrell's family.
She also said her actions will in some way always shadow her three daughters. "I am supposed to protect you, and instead I hurt you," Devault said.
Shortly after the attack, Devault told investigators Harrell attacked her as she slept 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.
Devault later confessed to attacking her husband, saying she pummeled him in a rage as he slept after he sexually assaulted her.
The case had many salacious elements, including testimony about plots to hire a hit man and the fact that Devault was a former stripper who met her boyfriend on a sugar-daddy dating website. The judge in the case made extensive efforts to keep the trial from becoming the spectacle that enveloped the Jodi Arias case in the same courthouse a year ago.
Devault's past as a stripper, for instance, was barely mentioned during the trial. The case attracted nowhere near the attention of the Arias trial despite some similar circumstances.
The key prosecution witness was Devault's former boyfriend, Allen Flores, a businessman who met Devault on a sugar-daddy dating website and loaned her $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.