For both the prosecution and the defense, the jury will be key in the upcoming murder trial for Steven DeMocker, who could face the death penalty if convicted.
Issues about jury selection will take place at a hearing in the case next week.
Prosecutors accuse DeMocker, 55, of bludgeoning his ex-wife, Carol Kennedy, to death with a golf club on July 2, 2008, in her Williamson Valley home. The defense argues that DeMocker was riding his bicycle on a Williamson Valley trail at the time of the murder.
On Dec. 9 and Dec. 15, lawyers are expected to spar before Superior Court Judge Thomas Lindberg about what questions to ask the pool of prospective jurors, whether there should be written questionnaires and other issues relevant to selecting a fair and unbiased jury to hear the case, according to Rich Robertson, a Phoenix private investigator who is serving as spokesman for the defense.
After determining guilt or innocence, the same jury - depending on its verdict - would also be called upon in the sentencing phase to determine whether DeMocker should face the death penalty or life in prison.
Officials at the Yavapai County Prosecutor's Office did not return calls for comment yesterday.
Lindberg is also expected to rule on whether the state has enough probable cause to seek the death penalty. The judge heard arguments on that issue earlier this fall. In addition to first-degree murder and burglary, the state alleges five aggravators in seeking the death penalty. These include that another crime, burglary, was committed at the same time as the murder; that the suspect was seeking financial gain; that the crime was committed to inflict cruelty on the victim; that the suspect was trying to eliminate Kennedy as a witness to his alleged submitting of false financial documents in their divorce proceeding; and that the crime was committed in a cold, calculated manner.
Prosecutors contend that DeMocker, an investment adviser, killed Kennedy in order to avoid paying her $6,000 per month in alimony and to keep her from getting a portion of a 401(k) retirement plan. They also allege that Kennedy planned to report DeMocker to the IRS for tax fraud.
Robertson, meanwhile, notes that another unidentified man's DNA was found beneath Kennedy's fingernails, which should raise reasonable doubt as to whether DeMocker was the killer. Also, DeMocker asserts that he was riding his bike at the time of the slaying, but sheriff's officers failed to check for tracks and other evidence that would corroborate his statement for more than a week, allowing rain to erase any tracks.
"His defense is based on actual innocence," Robertson said.
In court documents, prosecutors said that DeMocker has no alibi for the time of Kennedy's death.
Doors at the house were unlocked, allowing access to anyone, and Kennedy had been out running before the fatal attack. She had been talking on the phone with her mother when she suddenly exclaimed, "Oh, no."
In a tragic twist, a man who stayed in Kennedy's guesthouse, who might have been called as a witness, was found dead in January.
DeMocker remains in custody in lieu of a $2.5 million bond. The trial is set for May 2010.