Trial and Heir

In the trial of the decade, Butch Harrod is found guilty of the 1988 murder of wealthy Phoenix widow Jeanne Tovrea

The cops return to Arizona without Hap or Cricket Tovrea. Armed with a search warrant, they raid Hap's home and business office in late 1995. The search unearths banking, phone and other records that solidify the links between Butch Harrod and Hap Tovrea.

As Harrod's case wends toward trial, he contacts New Times through a sister, June Barney. He says he wants to tell his side of the story because he suspects he's "on a conveyor belt to death row."

Harrod spends hours talking with a reporter at the Madison Street Jail, where he's being held without bond. A skilled conversationalist, Harrod seems to know something about almost everything except who killed Jeanne Tovrea. He says he didn't do it, and he doesn't know who did.

In the interviews, he comes across much like jurors will observe him on the witness stand in November 1997--cocky and full of himself.

Harrod seems unfazed when told that time is running out if he intends to implicate Hap Tovrea or anyone else in the murder. Can't give anyone up when I didn't do anything myself, he repeats. He has no explanation for his fingerprints at the crime scene.

Phoenix criminal-defense attorney Tom Henze once told another lawyer it's best to "park it where the sun shines" if you've got the facts on your side.

The prosecutors from the Maricopa County Attorney's Office do just that as Butch Harrod's trial starts in late October. Henze himself is in the front row, listening in on behalf of his client, Hap Tovrea, who's not listed as a witness for either side. The large courtroom is packed.

Seated in the gallery behind the defense table is Team Harrod, as June Barney dubbed it. The team includes Barney and Harrod's mother, Marie Woolitz. The women have missed few, if any, of Harrod's court hearings since his September 1995 arrest.

For the record, Barney says she believes in her brother's innocence. But she's an astute woman who has studied the murder case with the intensity of a Talmudic scholar. In moments of candor, she says that, even if Butch is involved, she'll make it her life's work to find who the real shooters were.

Butch Harrod sits placidly between his attorneys as prosecutor Paul Ahler begins his opening statement. Harrod, 43, looks like a shop teacher in a V-neck pullover sweater and wire-rim glasses. He's a pudgy-faced man who parts his sandy-brown hair down the middle. He feigns disinterest in the goings-on.

Speaking without notes, Ahler gets right to the point.
"The defendant's fingerprints and palm prints are all over this murder scene," he tells the jury. "There may be other killers out there, but the evidence will support beyond any doubt that one of them is him."

With that, Ahler points at Butch Harrod.
Many consider Ahler a cold fish, but they're wrong. He's just very serious about what he does for a living. After the trial, several jurors say that they sense in Ahler someone with an intense sense of right and wrong.

"I'd like to have him on my side in anything," one juror says, unaware of Ahler's reputation as a fierce pickup basketball player.

As County Attorney Rick Romley's top aide, Ahler spends most of his time dealing with administrative issues. But at heart, he's a trial lawyer. In 1988, he was on call when word came of Jeanne Tovrea's murder. He's been on the case since.

Before ending his opening statement, Ahler plays the Gordon Phillips tape for the first of untold times during the trial. That man, he says, again pointing at Harrod, is Phillips.

Tonya McMath's task is daunting as she starts her opening statement on behalf of Butch Harrod. By law, her side doesn't have to prove anything--that's the state's burden. But she's aware that the cards--more aptly, the fingerprints and the phone message--are stacked against her client.

A skilled barrister in her 30s, McMath has a no-nonsense but pleasant courtroom demeanor. She begins nervously, before settling into a groove.

"James Harrod knew about as much about the Tovrea murder as you or I did" on April 1, 1988, she says. ". . . He doesn't know where the fingerprints came from. He can only say that he didn't place them there. Fingerprints can and have been faked."

The prosecution quickly establishes that someone shot Jeanne Tovrea five times with a .22-caliber gun--twice in the face and three times behind the head.

Witnesses next provide motive for the Tovrea children to have wanted Jeanne dead--"four million reasons," according to Ahler's opening statement.

Police fingerprint technicians describe how 12 of the 13 latent fingerprints on the kitchen window are Butch Harrod's (the other remains unidentified). The technicians also tell how they found four of Harrod's prints on a kitchen counter, one print on a gate outside the home, and a palm print on weatherstripping removed from the kitchen window.

Oddly, the trail of Harrod's fingerprints ends in the kitchen, which suggests that he may not have been the trigger man.

Fingerprint expert Pat Wertheim tells the jury that Harrod's prints have not been forged or fabricated. The only way the prints could have gotten where police found them, Wertheim says, is when Harrod left them there.

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