Steve Democker

This case ended up being one of those in which I wish I had seen a television show about recently.  I know they are out there because I read about them, not to mention I remember seeing one, just not all the details.  I do not generally say this a lot because I know that any show or documentary made about a case is bias in one way or another but this case is just an odd one.  I am sure that when I saw whatever television show it was, probably 48 Hours, and put this name on my list I was hoping the research would tell me more or answer some questions that I had.  Well, since I do not recall the show completely I cannot say if it did answer questions I had at the time or it simply just gave me more questions.

This is one of those cases where my gut tells me who is guilty I have to remind myself that the justice system is not built on my gut.  I have blogged about other cases similar to this one, one in which while I may believe the defendant is guilty, but I am just not seeing how a jury was able to come to that conclusion with the evidence that was gathered. This case has even more issues because of a mistake, that can never be fixed, was made in the lab during the autopsy on the victim.  But, as usual here I go getting ahead of myself.

On July 2, 2008 Carol Kennedy-Democker was on the phone with her mother, Ruth fro her Prescott Arizona home.  Almost every report refer to Carol as simply Carol Kennedy.  She had been married to Steve Democker and reports seem a bit sketchy.  Some say their divorce had very recently been finalized, while others say it was still in the process.  What I can say is that Steve Democker was order to pay Carol $6,000 a month in spousal support and July was the first month that was to start.  But again, on that evening she was talking to her mother on the phone.  Ruth would say that while they were talking Carol yelled out, "Oh No!" and the phone went dead.  Ruth attempted to reach her daughter again and when that failed she called the police.

Authorities would arrive at Carol's home and find her on the floor, dead.  At first they thought maybe she had fallen from a ladder but then they noticed a blood trail telling them that Carol had been moved.  A medical examiner would determine that she had been hit on the head seven to eight times with an object that would later be speculated to be a golf club.  I say it was speculated that it was a golf club because no one found a weapon.  

Of course the first person investigators were going to look at was the ex... or soon to be ex... husband, Steve Democker.  He would claim that at the time of the murder he had been out on a bike ride, about a mile from the home that he had once shared with Carol and where she would spend her last minutes of life.  Investigators would also talk to the couples two daughters, one who was in college and one who was in high school and a man by the name of James Knapp.  Knapp lived in a guest house on the property.  Authorities would say that they interview Knapp and he claimed to have been with his son who was ill at the time and they apparently felt sure that his alibi was solid.  

Three months after Carols murder, Steve Democker was arrested and charged in her death.  After many years, two trials (really only one and a half), and several different developments he would be convicted of Carol's murder in October of 2013.  In January of 2014 he would be sentenced to "natural life" plus twenty years from other charges that included tampering with evidence and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.  

As far as the murder conviction goes, if you were to search this case nearly everything you will read will tell you that there was no direct evidence that Steve Democker killed Carol. There were no fingerprints, no DNA, no hair, and even no witnesses. There was definitely no confession.  So just what did the prosecutors have?  They had motive and a lot of circumstantial evidence.  They had that while Steve Democker's spousal support payments were to start on July 1st, he had not yet made it; they had that at the time of the murder Steve Democker was in financial ruin and even being investigated for taking money belonging to clients in his stockbroking company.  They had a $750,000 life insurance policy that still apparently had Steve as the beneficiary.  They had bicycle tire tracks that they would claim matched Steve's bicycle; they had a shoe print that while rare and did match Steve, could not exclude many others. They had computer searches and then they had his demeanor after the murder, which led to many of the other charges that he was convicted of. 

So lets dig through this.  Investigators would learn that when it came to Demockers finances, they were not pretty.  Prior to the divorce and conviction Steve had been a stockbroker and was said to have made nearly $700,000 a year.  This would likely account for the reason his spousal support payments were what they were.  However, at the time of the murder he was being investigated for bilking millions of dollars from clients and by the sound of it, his job, career and maybe freedom was already on the line.  Investigators would also learn that Steve was highly in debt.  He had spent money from retirement accounts he had owned, he had borrowed money from his parents and he had mortgages and lines of credit pertaining to two homes. He was also thousands of dollars in debt due to credit cards. It was indicated, although admittedly not said, that he did not have the $6,000 to pay Carol that month for spousal support, and even if he did, at the rate things were going there was no way he would be able to keep up with it.

As for the life insurance that totaled $750,000 the insurance company had refused to give that money to Steve as long as he was a suspect in the murder.  To get around that Steve voluntarily allowed the beneficiaries to be changed to his daughters.  Upon his arrest Steve had his brother, James, take over his finance affairs and when the insurance did pay out to the daughters they then funneled it to their uncle, who then used it to pay for Steve's defense attorneys.  So while technically it was not given to him, he still got it.  I am sure that if he is guilty of this murder he did not plan on having to spend that money on a defense. Rarely do murderers look that far ahead.

As I said above investigators say that they matched bicycle tire tracks at the home to the bike that Steve had already admitted to being in his possession at the time of the murder. Now, I have researched and heard of a lot of cases, but this was a first for me.  Then again, aside from the infamous Mickey Thompson murder I cannot think of another in which the perpetrator was reportedly on a bicycle.  They also claim there was a shoe print just outside Carol's door that had a more rare tread to it and while could not exclude the fact it came from a shoe Steve had, and apparently admitted wearing, it was not an exclusive type of tread.    

Looking at his cell phone records investigators determined that there was no activity for a period of about two hours during which the murder had occurred.  Looking at the totality of his normal cell phone usage prosecutors would claim this was completely out of character for Steve.

Then there were the things he said and did after the murder.  His girlfriend, at least the one at the time of the murder, would say that Steve was overly obsessed and feared he would be arrested.  She would claim that he would make several statements about plans to flee. In fact, it would be shown that he was so fearful of this that he had buried some clothes and money in a bag in an area near his home in case he "had to leave in a hurry."  It should be noted however, that even then, no matter the paranoia, even the girlfriend does not claim he confessed.  In fact, she would state that he was afraid of being arrested for a crime he did not commit.  

Investigators would look at Steve's computer and find several searches that were interesting. ...  "How to kill someone and make it look like a suicide;" "How to receive life insurance in case of homicide;" and even hit man tips on how to kill someone. In the search of the home they found he had recently bought books on how to evade authorities. Investigators would also bring up the issue of an email that was received by attorneys (I could not determine if by this they meant prosecutors or defense).  It was sent to appear to be from an anonymous person.  The email stated that this person had overheard two men and a woman discussing the fact they were sent to the home to kill over a prescription drug deal. It was suggested that James Knapp was the target but obviously that did not happen. It was later discovered that Steve had dictated this email to his youngest daughter who then sent it.  This email would bring more charges onto Steve including, fraud, forgery, tampering with evidence and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.    Prosecutors would argue that these things were not the actions of an innocent man but of a guilty man who was trying to divert attention and cover things up.

Steve first went to trial in 2010.  Apparently one day during the trial the judge had gone into his chambers and collapsed.  It is unclear if he had died then from a brain tumor or if his death came later, but he was obviously unfit to continue with the trial. My research indicates that at that point the trial was simply put on hold until a new judge could be assigned but that soon after restarting the trial the defense attorney's decided to quit and a mistrial was declared.  Some research indicated that the mistrial was declared due to the judge's health and that the attorney's would quit in between the trials.  Either way the first trial was done and Steve no longer had attorneys. 

Now, his attorney's did not quit for any traditional reason that attorney's quit such as family or person reason, or even financial.  They quit because it had been discovered that one of the attorney's supposedly had a cover to a 7 wood golf club in his office.  I need to be a bit fair here in saying that while prosecutors claim it was this golf club (the 7 wood) that was the murder weapon I can only speculate as to how they came to that conclusion and I should be clear that my deductive theory is just that...a theory.  I found nothing that stated for sure that Steve even owned a set a golf clubs, but he did live next door to a golf course, and he was a business man.  I can only conclude that he did in fact have a set of clubs and that they had covers.  I can assume that the only club not found with the others was the 7 wood and that both the club and the cover was missing.  Now it was said that the cover to that club was in the possession of one of the attorney, hence they decided it was a conflict of interest and quit the case.  It was said that the prosecutor planned to depose that attorney but to be honest I never heard any more about it.

For the next four years there was a lot of legal wrangling.  Some of it had to do with obviously getting a new set of defense attorney's caught up on the case, but others had to do with other things, mainly something that was called "Docugate."  I admit that I skimmed through this a bit and only hope that I understood the issue correctly so if anyone who reads this can clarify better I would appreciate it.  From my understanding the defense attorney's filed to have the district attorney's office removed from the case because they claimed that the district attorney's office had received and seen sealed documents related to the defense. The defense then argued to have that case settled before continuing with the upcoming trial. It was eventually denied, then there was an appeal and it was denied again.

The defense made a big issue at the second trial about James Knapp, and yet I was left with confusion as to where they were going with it.  If you recall James Knapp was the man who lived in the guest house on Carol's property and had been cleared as a suspect.  He is also the man that the anonymous email claimed was the real target of the killing.  Keep in mind that the email was determined to have been a fraud, perpetrated by Steve as dictated to his daughter.  Also remember that Steve's brother James became in charge of his estate and affairs after his arrest and a few months after Carol's murder he had been instrumental in having Knapp evicted from the property.  The big thing here though was that in January of 2009 Knapp was found dead in his home with a gunshot wound to his chest.

Now, why the issue of Knapp confuses me is this, the defense only claimed that James Knapp was not investigated enough prior to charges being brought against Steve, but apparently did not accuse him of being a suspect.  Instead they made a big deal about his death, bringing up inconsistencies in the investigation of his death.  According to the defense the death was first ruled a homicide but later determined to be a suicide.  They would also claim that there was evidence of a struggle in the home with furniture tipped over and even bullet holes in the walls.  A police officer testified that it was believed that Knapp had committed suicide because of many issues, including believing he had terminal cancer (although an examination determined this not to be true) and that the scene was staged so that people did not think it was a suicide.  

Now, I would not have much of an issue with the defense bringing up the inconsistencies in the death of Knapp if it did not a) open the door to another issue that could do more harm to not just Steve but his family or b) they did not then also present evidence as to Knapp's supposed unstable and possibly violent personality.  But, they did both these things.  First let's deal with the "door" I mentioned.  There was speculation that James Democker was one of the last known people to have contact with James Knapp.  If this was not to be considered a suicide but in fact a murder that would have opened scrutiny into James Democker and what reason he would want him killed other than for his brother.  Secondly, the defense went on to have a man testify who was selling a business in 2007 and was in discussion with James Knapp.  According to the man Carol had gone to one of their meetings and while he could not remember if Carol was there at the time he would testify that James Knapp stated that Carol was his girlfriend.  This is something that I did not find a a claim anywhere else.  The man would go on to say that in February of 2008 he was contacted by Knapp who told him he had terminal cancer and that the deal would not be finalized.   It should also be noted that either sometime between his trials, or after his conviction, but before his sentencing telephone conversations from the jail were recorded between Steve and family members.  He expressed disdain to the person about the fact that his attorney's had brought up Knapp saying that he did not think he was involved in Carol's murder and wondered why they had even brought it up.  Now, of course he could have not wanted it mentioned for just the reason I mentioned, it could have put his brother in a spot, but then again, Steve had brought him up when he fabricated the email to the attorney's early on.  

In my opinion though, it is just as likely that the defense brought up the issue of Knapp and the investigation into his death to show that the people within the county tend to have issues when it comes to cases.  This could have been very important because while in the Democker case it was not necessarily police officers who had made mistakes, it was a medical examiner.  One has to wonder if this same medical examiner had determined Knapps cause of death.  So, what happened in this case?  It was documented that after the murder visible scratches were seen on Steve.  He would claim that he had obtained them on his bike ride and that much of the area was woods so it was the branches that scratched him.  For their part it is likely that the investigators believed those scratches were obtained during the murder and created by Carol.  The medical examiner had taken samples of DNA from her under her nails at her autopsy.  Those samples were sent to the lab and to everyone's surprise did not match Steve Democker.  Initially it was considered to be an "unknown male" and prosecutors could not have that so they dug deeper.  It was later determined that the DNA found under the nails belonged to an elderly man.  So who was this man?  Well, he was the man who had been on the autopsy table not one hour before the body of Carol Kennedy.  It was theorized later that the only way that this man's DNA got under Carol's fingernails was because the ME had not cleaned utensils as required and had transferred the DNA.  This obviously was a huge obstacle for the prosecution.

In October of 2016 Steve Demockers appeal was denied.  His conviction and sentence were affirmed.  It should also be noted that at the time of his sentencing he was also "fined."  He was required to pay $700,000 in restitution to a victims funds.  So while his daughters (at least one says she believes in his innocence, the other has not publicly said) funneled the money from the insurance to his defense, the courts are requiring that it be returned in another fashion.

As I said in the beginning this is a strange case for me.  I do have a gut feeling and belief that he was responsible for the death of his wife, but I am torn at the evidence presented. I always fear cases that are won for the prosecution when there is little evidence other than behaviors after a murder or when new laws are made (i.e. the Drew Peterson case) in order to allow evidence that would not normally be allowed.  For the record I also believe Drew Peterson to be guilty.  It begins to set a precedence among courts to continue to allow such things into the trials.  And precedence is the foundation of our justice system in both criminal and civil courts.  For me this case opens the door to "gut feelings," something that should not be in our courtrooms.

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