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Top Stories of 2013 #4: DeMocker found guilty

Steven DeMocker

Steven DeMocker

PRESCOTT - Once a high-powered financial adviser, Steven DeMocker is now a convicted murderer.

It took five years to get to the verdict. DeMocker was accused of killing his ex-wife, Virginia Carol Kennedy, 53, at her Williamson Valley home on July 2, 2008. Investigators said she was alone, speaking with her mother in Tennessee, when she was savagely attacked, bludgeoned to death with what they alleged was a golf club.

Carol's last words, her mother said, were, "Oh, no."

Kennedy's divorce from DeMocker was finalized just a month earlier and provided motive for the murder, investigators said. DeMocker had agreed to a $6,000-a-month alimony payment, which was based on his income when times were good. When the economy began to falter, his income dropped - some months to nothing, he said.

Detectives arrested DeMocker in October 2008. He was charged with first-degree murder and was held without bond until a judge set bond at $2.5 million in January 2009, ruling that he couldn't be held without bond because "no physical evidence truly connects the defendant to the scene."

He was re-indicted on a charge of first-degree murder in February 2009, and faced the death penalty if convicted, but that was taken off the table later, and his bond cut to $1 million. DeMocker, who said he was indigent, had not bonded out since his arrest.

DeMocker's first trial started in June 2010 with a revelation, according to the prosecutors, who said they found out during opening statements that DeMocker had access to more than $700,000, money paid from Kennedy's life insurance.

The trial came to an abrupt stop on June 17, 2010, when Judge Lindberg collapsed in his chambers.

Judge Warren R. Darrow took over the next month, after it became apparent that Lindberg would not be able to return to work. Lindberg died from a brain tumor in April 2011.

Then, partway into the prosecution's case, DeMocker's attorneys quit, citing an unspecified conflict of interest, and a mistrial was declared.

In December, Presiding Superior Court Judge David L. Mackey reassigned Darrow, who also had been presiding over the James Arthur Ray sweat lodge trial, saying, "It's about being realistic about what one person should have to do in one year's time," and, facing a shortage of available judges, prevailed upon Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Gary E. Donahoe to come out of retirement for the duration of the case.

DeMocker attorney Craig Williams filed a motion in 2011 to dismiss the case or disqualify the Yavapai County Attorney's Office from prosecuting because numerous court filings - which he intended to keep from the YCAO - were viewed and printed by members of the county attorney's staff. A spokesman for the YCAO admitted that had happened, but called it a "harmless error."

That motion set the stage for more than a year of court appearances and more motions. Donahoe ruled against the defense motion to dismiss the case or disqualify the YCAO, which led to appeals to higher courts, and, ultimately, to a series of hearings that took several months.

After the hearings were completed in April 2013, Donahoe issued a 57-page decision denying the motion again.

The second trial began in July and clipped right along. Jury selection was completed in just two days, not the four allotted. Donahoe found that three-day trial weeks were sufficient, not the four-day weeks he had planned.

Donahoe insisted on a speedy pace, at one point admonishing the attorneys for "repeating" questions, adding, "I'm about ready to set some time limits based on what I saw today."

DeMocker attorney Craig Williams protested, as he would several times during the trial, that Donahoe was trying to "rush" him.

"I don't think I have to waste the jury's time," Donahoe said.

The prosecution painted a picture of DeMocker as a playboy who had multiple mistresses while married to Kennedy, and who earned a very good living but always spent more than he made.

His marriage ended at the same time as his commission-based paychecks shriveled, the state argued, and his available credit was just about at its limit. An expert called by the prosecution said DeMocker would have profited from Kennedy's death, both because he would be released from paying alimony and because of her three-quarters of a million dollars in life insurance.

DeMocker's attorneys spent hours trying to prove that the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office botched the murder investigation, and that detectives picked DeMocker as a suspect so quickly that they overlooked other possible suspects, including Kennedy's tenant, James Knapp. Although Knapp's death in January 2009 was ruled a suicide, the defense sought to cast doubt on that as well.

The trial nearly came off the rails for a second time when the defense claimed the prosecution was about to use an email that it had not disclosed and that Donahoe called a "dynamite bombshell." He said it contained a description of an attack on Kennedy by DeMocker on an occasion prior to the murder in which he entered Kennedy's home, found her on the phone, took the phone out of her hand and smashed it against a wall before shoving her.

"The jury could conclude this is exactly what happened the night of the murder," he said.

Although the email had, in fact, been disclosed as part of the 33,000 pages of evidence, the jury never saw it, because both sides came to an agreement that the state would not use it.

Finally, on Oct. 4, the jury came back with verdicts: guilty on all counts.

But after that, and before Donahoe could sentence him, Williams said that YCSO Captain David Rhodes, who oversees the county jail, took DeMocker aside and "questioned" him without his attorneys present.

That allegation prompted Donahoe to put off until 2014 any further action, including sentencing. On Jan. 8, he will hear arguments relating to the Rhodes interview and other matters, including Williams' motion that the judge throw out the verdict because it was made "contrary to law and the weight of the evidence."

Follow the reporter on Twitter @AZNewsguy