Originally Published: May 24, 2010 10:26 p.m.
PRESCOTT - Stung by an article in a Phoenix newspaper, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk asked a judge to sanction a lawyer who represents the daughters of murder defendant Steven DeMocker.
Jury selection continues for a fourth week in the trial for DeMocker, 56, a Prescott stockbroker charged with first-degree murder and faces the death penalty in the July 2, 2008, bludgeoning death of his former wife, Carol Kennedy. Kennedy, 53, died in her Williamson Valley home about three months after the couple's divorce settlement. Prosecutors allege DeMocker used a golf club to kill her for financial gain to avoid paying $6,000 monthly in alimony, the proceeds of a retirement account and to gain control of a $750,000 life insurance policy. His defense lawyers say the settlement favored their client.
In a motion filed Friday after an article about the case appeared in The Arizona Republic, Chief Deputy County Attorney Dennis McGrane contends the article was inaccurate, particularly the last paragraph that described a meeting between Charlotte DeMocker, 18, a graduating senior at Prescott High School, her representatives and Polk asking Polk to withdraw the death penalty.
"Her response to the whole thing was to make a joke about the death penalty, right in front of Charlotte's face," the article said, quoting Christopher Dupont, a Phoenix lawyer representing the young women.
Polk "never made such a comment," the motion stated and asked Superior Court Judge Thomas B. Lindberg to impose sanctions against Dupont.
"She never made a joke about the death penalty in this or any other matter," the motion states. "Dupont has intentionally misled the reporter and thus the public about the facts of this meeting." It asked Lindberg to deal with Dupont's alleged ethical violation "swiftly and severely."
Reached by phone Monday, Dupont said he would file a response to the prosecutor's motion with the court including sworn affidavits.
The prosecution also asks that Lindberg question the potential jurors to be certain that they had not read the article that appeared in The Republic.
"Dupont knew that the jury selection process had begun or was about to begin at the time he told his lie," the prosecution motion said. "It appears that he made this false statement with the intent to influence a prospective jury pool in a death penalty case. His egregious conduct simply cannot be overlooked by this court."
The motion also asked Lindberg to issue a gag order against Dupont "to prevent further incidents of this nature during a very long trial process." Attorneys expect the trial to continue until the end of July.
While the state Constitution considers Charlotte and Katie DeMocker, 21, as victims, they also believe their father did not kill their mother and support the defense. In the second week of jury selection, when Charlotte came into the courtroom and saw her grandmother, Ruth Kennedy, for the first time in awhile, she gave her a hug. At that point one of the county victim advocates took them outside the courtroom and told them they couldn't be seen together by the jurors, said Richard Robertson, a defense spokesman.
However, since that incident DeMocker's parents and other family members have been in the courtroom. Their courtroom relationship with Ruth Kennedy appears cordial with smiles and polite conversation.
John Sears, one of DeMocker's defense lawyers, said the state's request for sanctions against Dupont is "a matter between him and the County Attorney's Office."
However, Sears and two other DeMocker lawyers attended that meeting with Polk and Charlotte DeMocker.
"We're disappointed on the eve of trial the judge is going to have to consider something that doesn't involve the trial of Steve DeMocker," Sears said. "We are considering whether we should or need to file a response, as well." Sears declined to say whether he heard Polk's alleged remark.
As of this past Friday lawyers had agreed on a panel of 40 prospective jurors. Three remaining potential jurors will be brought to court for individual questioning on Wednesday, Sears said. This Friday lawyers will exercise their strikes, winnowing the panel to 12 jurors plus six alternates for the lengthy trial.
DeMocker, who maintains his innocence, told detectives that he was riding his mountain bike at the time of the murder. Deputy County Attorney Joseph C. Butner III hopes to present witnesses to testify that tire tracks found near Kennedy's house, as well as some shoe prints, could tie DeMocker to the crime. However, detectives found neither his fingerprints nor his DNA at the scene and samples from under Kennedy's fingernails showed the DNA profiles of three other, as yet unknown, men.
While opening arguments might begin Friday afternoon if they select the jury, Sears believes June 2 would be a more likely start date.