Opening statements set for trial of Arizona woman accused of killing husband with hammer

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Lawyers are scheduled to make opening statements Thursday at the trial of an Arizona woman accused of fatally bludgeoning her husband over the head with a hammer as he slept.

Marissa Suzanne Devault, 36, claims killing Dale Harrell was an act of self-defense and told investigators that her husband had physically and sexually abused her in the past.

But authorities contend the January 2009 attack on Harrell was premeditated and say Devault has given conflicting accounts of her husband's death. Authorities also say the people Devault alleged were witnesses to the past abuse did not back up her claims.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Harrell, 34, suffered multiple skull fractures at the couple's home in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert and died at a hospice nearly a month after the attack of complications from his head injuries.

Devault initially told investigators that her husband had attacked her while she was asleep and choked her until she was unconscious. She also told police that when she came to, she saw another man who lived at their home beating Harrell with a hammer.

But authorities say bloodstain patterns showed Harrell was alone in the bed at the time of the attack and that bloodstains on Devault's clothes were consistent with a person swinging an object repeatedly over her head.

Investigators say Devault later confessed, saying she attacked her sleeping husband in a rage after he had sexually assaulted her.

Police say they later discovered Devault had been dating another man, Allen Flores, for more than two years. In a search of Flores' computer, police say they found a journal that appeared to be written from Flores' perspective indicating that he had given Devault about $7,000 and that she used it to hire a hit man, according to court records.

Authorities say child pornography also was found on Flores' computer. County prosecutors granted Flores immunity on that allegation in exchange for his testimony in the murder case. Without such an agreement, Flores was expected to invoke his right against self-incrimination.