Originally Published: July 9, 2010 11:12 p.m.
A deputy county attorney argued in court Friday that unbeknownst to the prosecution, accused murder defendant Steven DeMocker benefited from some of the $750,000 in life insurance proceeds paid out from the victim's polices.
Prosecutors charged DeMocker, 56, with murder in the July 2, 2008, death of his former wife Carol Kennedy, contending that he beat her to death with a golf club at her Williamson Valley home. They claim that DeMocker, a stockbroker, had a financial motive for the crime.
Deputy County Attorney Joseph C. Butner III told Superior Court Judge Warren R. Darrow that the first time he learned that the Hartford Life Insurance Co. paid DeMocker's daughters, Katie, 22, and Charlotte, 18, the money from their late mother's life insurance policies was when defense lawyer John Sears alluded to it in his opening argument in June.
Hartford had at first denied the claim since DeMocker, the beneficiary, was under suspicion in his ex-wife's death. Later, DeMocker signed over the policy to his daughters in a document that Sears notarized, Butner told Darrow.
"What happened was they (the claims) were processed through the estate," Butner said. "He ultimately received a benefit of $350,000 in violation of the terms of the testamentary trust of Carol Kennedy."
In a written motion, Butner said $100,000 went to Sears and another $250,000 to Osborn and Maledon, the Phoenix firm that also represents DeMocker.
"Defendant Steven DeMocker then deceived the Hartford Insurance Co. out of the $750,000 and then manipulated the funds for his benefit through a maze of accounts held by his daughter, fiancée and parents," Butner wrote. "The jury has a right to know how the defendant, Steven DeMocker, ultimately received the life insurance proceeds from the death of Carol Kennedy. The jury has a right to know how the defendant, Steven DeMocker, persuaded his daughter, Katie DeMocker, and his fiancée, Renee Girard, to violate the terms of the testamentary trust of Carol Kennedy and pay those proceeds to his attorneys."
The trust required the money stay in the account for the young women until they were 25 years old, Butner said. Instead, the trusteeship changed from Katie DeMocker to Girard, and funds were dispersed through DeMocker's mother, Janice DeMocker, to the defense lawyers, according to Butner.
Sears demanded that Butner say "in open court" if he alleges that Sears committed "some criminal or unethical act."
"The documents speak for themselves," Butner retorted.
Sears asked Darrow to throw out the evidence regarding the insurance policy and any witnesses that Butner might try to call to testify about it, including Sears himself, noting the state disclosed them too late under court rules.
Sears accused prosecutors of trying to smear DeMocker, his family and his lawyers with "the idea of blood money."
After the hearing, Sears called Butner's claims "really disturbing."
"This is what we think is an unfortunate effort by the state to avoid going back to trial by interjecting an issue that has no place in the case," Sears said. He pointed out that the DeMocker daughters are now adults and what they do with their inheritance is up to them.
"They believe their father is falsely accused," Sears said. "This case is about one thing and one thing only - who killed Carol Kennedy - not these collateral matters."
Reached by phone, Girard, DeMocker's girlfriend at the time of the murder, said that the DeMocker family asked her to take over as trustee for the estate from Katie DeMocker who was "burned out" and busy with her senior year at college and working two jobs.
"My only role was to transfer that money to Charlotte," Girard said. "That was my only role." When Charlotte turned 18, Girard went to the bank with her and helped her sign the money over to her grandmother.
"Their dad's life was on the line and the attorney's fees are huge," Girard said. "In their minds, they were contributing to saving their dad's life by doing that."
When asked if he knew the DeMocker family had another source of money when the county began paying for expert witnesses for the defense, Yavapai County Public Defender Dean Trebesh said a judge ordered him not to comment.
However, in a letter to the county supervisors, Trebesh said "the DeMocker capital murder case dealt us a major financial blow" and that the $350,000 budgeted for capital cases was insufficient. Due to the DeMocker case, in which the county will pay for defense as well as prosecution expert witnesses, and another death penalty case filed against Calvin Divens, the office will spend $946,000 more than budgeted, he wrote.
"Because of its unique and high-profile circumstances, the expenses have been frightful," Trebesh wrote.
Darrow, meanwhile, who was assigned the case after the first trial judge, Thomas Lindberg, became ill on June 17, gave the lawyers until noon Monday to file further papers about the insurance issue.
"I thought I could make a ruling to resume the trial on Thursday," Darrow said. "I'm less confident of that now."
The trial has been suspended since Lindberg's illness but most of the jurors told the judge Wednesday they would be able to continue to serve.