DeMocker's new judge gets down to work
PRESCOTT - Judge Gary Donahoe, called out of retirement from Maricopa County to preside over the Steven DeMocker murder trial, on Thursday heard oral arguments on a slew of motions in the case that had been piling up for several months.
DeMocker, accused of beating to death his ex-wife Carol Kennedy in 2008, is awaiting a retrial after his first ended in a mistrial when his defense attorneys quit.
The first item on his list was the prosecution's request that one of DeMocker's original attorneys, John Sears, be deposed. Sears is one of the attorneys who quit the DeMocker case in October along with Larry Hammond, citing a conflict of interest.
Deputy Yavapai County Attorney Jeff Paupore claimed that when DeMocker was arrested, he told investigators that he had given a Calloway golf club cover, a key piece of evidence, to Sears "a few days after the murder."
Paupore asserted that Sears "secreted" the golf club cover "for over three months without informing law enforcement."
Paupore also implicated Sears in the anonymous email and "voice in the vent" defense that DeMocker attempted to use. Sears told the prosecution that DeMocker had heard (via a voice in the air vent in his cell) an anonymous person tell him who had actually killed Kennedy and why. A month after that, Sears informed the prosecution that he had received, in his email, more information about who killed Kennedy.
Daughter Charlotte DeMocker eventually admitted to writing the email and sending it to Sears. The voice in the vent "was totally fabricated" by DeMocker, said Paupore.
Paupore contended that Sears was involved in the distribution of Carol Kennedy's life insurance money and he claimed that Sears had personal knowledge that DeMocker controlled $700,000 of the proceeds during the time Sears argued to the court that DeMocker was broke.
Sears' attorney, James Belanger, argued that anything Sears might say is covered by attorney-client privilege, and claimed that the request was punitive.
"It is borderline outrageous," he said. The prosecution is saying, 'he knows stuff that we'd like to know ... let us depose him.' That's not how it is supposed to work."
Paupore said, "Mr. Sears injected himself into a number of areas and he finds himself now in the chain of custody of some very significant evidence."
Donahoe did not immediately rule on that motion, taking it under advisement.
He denied a defense motion to dismiss the case or disqualify the Yavapai County Attorney's Office from prosecuting it. That motion arose out of a situation this summer, in which the defense argued that unauthorized people in the county attorney's office saw sealed filings. Donahoe said he did not find there was prejudice as a result of the files having been viewed.
He denied a defense motion for a change of venue because of pre-trial publicity; he said the news coverage was not unfair or pervasive.
Besides, he said, "If I can't get a panel out of 500 to 600 (potential) jurors, then we could go to Maricopa County."
A prosecution motion to exclude testimony about Jim Knapp, who was living in Kennedy's guesthouse, was also denied. The defense team wants to present Knapp as another potential suspect who was never properly investigated.
Paupore protested. "There's no viable motive for Mr. Knapp."
"Then it backfires on Mr. DeMocker. It's the defense's problem," said Donahoe.
Donahoe denied motions to have two sheriff's detectives and Dr. Phillip Keen, the Yavapai County medical examiner at the time of the murder, deposed, instead ordering they appear for interviews.
Throughout the two-hour hearing, it was apparent that Donahoe is taking a no-nonsense approach to the case. At one point, he turned to defense attorney Craig Williams and said, "Mr. Williams, I don't want anymore 30-page responses on motions; five or six (will do)."
Several times, Donahoe noted that DeMocker has been in jail for three years, at one point noting that the case "has been partially tried. It's ready to go to trial."
He suggested a Feb. 20, 2012 start date, but Williams said they could not be ready and proposed an April date.
Because so much has been on hold while they waited for a new judge, Williams said, "We are just not prepared."
"You've got six weeks to the February date," said Donahoe.
Paupore said, "I can tell the court that the state will be ready whenever the court sets a date."
The two sides agreed that, with four-day trial weeks, the case will take about three months.
When it does begin, said Donahoe, "We're not going to do pleadings, we're not going to do motions. If a witness doesn't show, your case is over. I'm going to have 16 to 18 volunteers from the community here (on the jury) and I'm not going to waste their time."
"I'll pick a trial date" and let the two sides know, said Donahoe.