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Mon, March 18

Judge declares mistrial in DeMocker murder trial

Steven DeMocker

Steven DeMocker

CAMP VERDE - It will be several months before Steven DeMocker faces a new jury.

The murder trial for DeMocker, 56, a Prescott stockbroker accused of killing his former wife, Carol Kennedy, 53, ended in a mistrial Friday after two new defense lawyers took over his case.

Craig Williams, a Prescott Valley lawyer, who along with Phoenix attorney Greg Parzych will represent DeMocker, said it will take him several months to familiarize himself with the thousands of pages of documents and the testimony of the witnesses. He called the work ahead "a daunting task."

After much back-and-forth with Superior Court Judge Warren R. Darrow, Williams asked the judge to declare a mistrial. However, Williams said he would not waive the issue of whether a new trial might be unconstitutional double jeopardy for DeMocker, a violation of his right not to be tried twice for the same crime.

At that point, Darrow declared a mistrial and said that he would hear arguments regarding the question of double jeopardy later.

Yavapai County Public Defender Dean Trebesch, who sought the lawyers after he realized his office could not represent DeMocker because of a conflict of interest, characterized both new defense lawyers as extremely experienced.

Williams and Parzych will also represent DeMocker on fraud charges arising from an anonymous e-mail that his former lawyers tried to introduce as evidence. The e-mail purported that a hit team from a Phoenix drug ring came to Kennedy's Williamson Valley house and killed her, inferring that her tenant, James Knapp, dealt with that drug ring. Knapp, who died of a gunshot wound in January 2009, suffered from cancer. The medical examiner ruled his death a suicide. An investigative report released by the County Attorney's office found that DeMocker allegedly had his teenage daughter send the e-mail to his defense lawyer and one of the prosecutors from an Internet café in Phoenix in July of 2009.

Shortly after that revelation, defense lawyers Larry Hammond and John Sears withdrew their services for reasons that remain under seal. The trial remained on hold for about a month while they took the matter up to the state Supreme Court, which ruled in their favor. Also, an illness suffered by the first trial judge delayed the trial for five weeks during the summer.

Darrow said that he would tell the jury commissioner to notify the jurors via e-mail, then send them letters thanking them for their service and explaining that the mistrial occurred. To bring the long-serving jury back just to tell them they are no longer needed would inconvenience them, Darrow said.

Jury selection began May 4, although potential jurors filled out an extensive questionnaire beforehand, written with the advice of a jury consultant brought in from Atlanta.

Deputy County Attorney Joseph C. Butner III said he would prefer the jurors be brought back to court and notified in person.

"I think they're entitled to a personal explanation," said Butner. "I know we can't tell them everything."

Darrow said the lawyers could talk to the jurors if they want, once they are released from the court-ordered admonition to refrain from speaking about the trial.

Hammond, one of DeMocker's former lawyers, asked Darrow to address DeMocker's situation at the Yavapai County jail, where he remains in administrative segregation after a fight broke out among the inmates. Williams also expressed concern and has found it difficult to contact DeMocker by phone.

"He's been in solitary confinement for seven weeks under conditions that violate orders issued by this court," Hammond said.

Butner argued that DeMocker has access to his lawyers through visits and videoconferences despite being held in administrative segregation. Butner suggested that DeMocker's new attorneys should file a written motion if they seek a change in his circumstances.

"The state really ought to clarify why he is in this lockdown," Williams said.

Deputy County Attorney Jack Fields, who represents the sheriff said, "It's the sheriff's jail and the sheriff runs it." Fields called the timing of the defense lawyer's request "inappropriate."

Darrow, meanwhile, said he would discuss on Nov. 23 a motion by Western News&Info Inc., the parent company of The Daily Courier, to unseal court records in the case.

Sears stood and objected, telling Darrow he should resolve the issue of DeMocker's conditions of confinement before addressing the newspaper's motion.

"You can't speak to Mr. DeMocker's jail conditions anymore," Darrow told Sears tartly. "You are conflicted off the case."

Sears replied that the new lawyers would not be prepared to discuss the issue of unsealing numerous documents in 11 days.

However, Darrow said that case law the newspaper's lawyers cited is "quite strong." There is "no reason to wait when the trial is over," Darrow added.

Meanwhile, Darrow told the lawyers to be back in court for a status conference on Dec. 13.


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