The Murder of Dale Harrell

On January 14, 2009 police in Gilbert Arizona would receive a call from Marissa DeVault. She would claim in the 911 call that an unknown assailant had come into the home she shared with her husband, Dale Harrell and had attacked him. Authorities would arrive at the home and Dale would be rushed to the hospital. Despite her claims of an assailant, Marissa would be arrested that same night on suspicions of aggravated assault. A claw hammer, covered in blood, would be found at the crime scene.

This case took on the sensationalism that it did partly due to the Jodi Arias case. It too took place in Maricopa County, just the year before. Jodi too had at some point said an unknown assailant had come into the home of her on again/off again boyfriend, Travis Alexander. She, like Marissa would later do, often changed her story from being the assailant herself to not being responsible. In fact, it seems that Jodi and Marissa would meet each other while doing time. In the end Marissa would face trial just one year after Arias in the same courtroom. The judge in Marissa's trial would proclaim that he did not want any “Arias fanatics” on the jury.

Amazingly Dale did not for nearly four weeks after the attack despite having a surgery that had removed part of his brain. In actuality his brain had begun to heal but his body was weakened by a stroke and two heart attacks. When he died on February 9th the cause of death was attributed to a blood clot that had formed in his lungs. Strangely, on the same day that Dale would die, while out on bail, Marissa would claim that she was assaulted, again by an unknown assailant and was found in a field. She would suffer a broken jaw and ankle. Marissa was arrested again on February 20th when the charges of aggravated assault were upgraded to first degree murder.

Before Marissa would ultimately admit that she had murdered her husband, she would blame a man named Stanley Cook. Cook lived with the couple in their home and while it was never determined just how he had received a disability in which he suffered a brain injury that caused memory loss, he would later in essence confess to the crime. Maybe confess is too strong of a word. Actually Cook said it was possible that he had done so and simply not remembered it. Prior to her trial investigators would look into this allegation and determine through forensics and other evidence that Cook had not committed the crime. There was a mention that it was widely believed that Cook may have witnessed the event and possibly gone as far as taking the claw hammer out of Marissa's hand but there was not a lot said about that. Cook was apparently offered some immunity for his testimony which of course the defense jumped on but it was unclear just what it was thought he would say.

By the time Marissa ever saw Cook inside a courtroom her new defense would center on the fact that she had attacked her husband, but in self defense. Well, that is what the defense called it along with claiming battered woman's syndrome and PTSD. They had to claim the latter because they had to explain why Dale was attacked while he was sleeping and not during the alleged abused that Marissa was now claiming. The last story would be that during the nine years of their marriage Marissa had suffered from physical and sexual abuse by her husband. She would claim that earlier in the day on January 14th, the day of the attack, he had once again attacked and raped her. She would allege that she “snapped” after he had fallen asleep and attacked him to end the abuse. By the time they had gotten to trial Marissa had already made the abuse claims whether officially or in jailhouse phone calls, so the authorities knew that she would likely be taking this angle for her defense. She would claim that there were several hospital visits and many witnesses to the abuse and yet the prosecutors could find no evidence to substantiate her claims. In fact, the only person who would testify about the abuse would be her daughter, Rhiannon, who was eighteen at the time of Marissa's 2014 trial, saying that she had witnessed the abuse and also infidelity on the part of both of her parents.

The infidelity part was significant because the prosecution had evidence that Marissa was having an affair. She had met a man named Allen Flores on a website that in essence looked for “sugar daddy's.” Over the course of about two years Flores had loaned Marissa over $300,000. During the course of the investigation Flores was discovered and just as the defense had argued against testimony from Cook, they did the same with Flores. He too had been granted immunity, but not for anything to do with the crime. At some point a search warrant had been served on Flores and on his computer authorities found evidence of child pornography. It does not appear that Marissa or her defense ever really denied having the affair with Flores or that she owed him the money, but even still the prosecution would show that Marissa had introduced Flores to people as her “dead” stepfather's lover. Well, first off her stepfather was not dead, nor was he gay.

Prosecutors would ultimately claim that the motive for the murder was a life insurance pay out of $1,250,000, some of which she planned to use to pay back Flores the money she owed him. She obviously did not get very far with obtaining it since she was arrested almost immediately.

In the end the jury did not believe the defense theory apparently and convicted Marissa for premeditated first degree murder. The prosecutors had asked for the death penalty for Marissa but after an interesting sentencing trial she was sentenced to life without parole (, which I used to get information sometimes states she's entitled to parole after twenty-five years but the Department of Corrections, nor other information indicates that is true). The reason I say the sentencing trial was interesting is because this is where the defense is allowed to show “mitigating” circumstances, while the prosecutor shows “aggravating” circumstances. The prosecution would have used a past criminal history if she had one or any proof that this was a fully thought out crime. There had been mention by Flores at the trial that she had possibly asked him to murder Dale. The prosecutor had also shown that Marissa had little remorse for her crime when they played jailhouse tapes that let the jury hear Marissa laughing at the death of her husband and her actions. For the defense, they had already tried the battered woman's syndrome but that had not obviously worked for them since their client was convicted so they had to find something else to convince the jury, who believed her to be guilty, that she did not deserve the death penalty. They would claim that as a child Marissa's mother had physically abused her while her stepfather had sexually abused her. It is completely unclear as to if they used anything but the word of a known liar as their basis for this claim. However, the prosecution pointed out that when it was clear that she was going to jail Marissa had given custody of her children to her mother and stepfather by her own free with and indicated that there were others, likely including her husband's family who would have been more suited if in fact the abuse allegations were true. It is a bit of a shame that it would be a waste of money to charge her with some sort of neglect on her children. It is not that I believe that she was abused by her parents, but she wanted a jury to believe that she was but had given her children to them.

As a side note, Dale's family filed a suit against Marissa not long after she was charged with the murder and was in jail. This was not a wrongful death suit or one of the civil suits we hear about in murders that are often done to prevent the perpetrator from receiving monetary gain. No, his family sued Marissa because she had had Dale cremated and then had refused to give his parents the ashes. Of course there was some claims of the psychological trauma it had caused them, which is common in cases such as this and often it is just done for legal reasons. To be honest I did not find any information about the resolution of this case or where it stands.

In August of 2016 Marissa's appeal was denied as the courts affirmed her conviction and sentence.  


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