Trial and Heir

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

Months earlier, Harrod had told New Times he couldn't recall the coke seller's name, and that he'd snorted the drug with the man that night.

The delicious task of cross-examining Harrod is left to Bill Culbertson. He's a former defense attorney and county court commissioner who is no stranger to high-profile cases--the AzScam trials come to mind.

Culbertson is rock-solid as he shreds the defendant on significant points. Perhaps most important, the prosecutor elicits from Harrod that Hap Tovrea paid him thousands of dollars more than he's ever admitted before. Culbertson asks Harrod why he told New Times that Hap paid him only $13,300, not the $35,000-plus he's owned up to for the first time on the stand.

"At that particular time, I didn't have access [to my records]," Harrod responds.

(This reporter was called as a witness in the case to verify comments made by Harrod during those interviews.)

Harrod has no good answer for why Hap Tovrea paid him three times more in the China deal than he did another partner, Jason Hu. He also concedes that Hu was far more crucial to the deal--such as it was--than himself.

Implausibly, Harrod maintains he never discussed Jeanne Tovrea's murder with his ex-wife, and that she's lying if she says otherwise.

"Those 18 prints at the crime scene say she's right, don't they?" Culbertson shoots back.

"No."
By the time Culbertson completes his questioning, several jurors say later, they have seen another side of Harrod.

"Mr. Culbertson just picked him apart," says Phoenix resident Rachel Shaw, who heard the testimony but was chosen at random as one of two alternates before jury deliberations started. "Butch seems like a normal guy on the outside, but inside his circuitry is screwed up. He's a schemer, and he didn't have the answers to the important questions."

Anne Costello's rebuttal testimony is most memorable for an outburst that Judge Reinstein tells the jurors to disregard.

It happens shortly after she takes the stand, in response to a question from Paul Ahler about her intentions after Butch Harrod left home on the evening of March 31, 1988.

"I was going to call the police," she replies, "because I was afraid there was going to be a murder that night."

So, Ahler asks, why didn't you?
"I was afraid for my life and for my family's life," Anne says, after which she seems to look for someone in the gallery.

"I'm sorry, Debbie!" she wails, covering her eyes.
Debbie Luster stares straight ahead, taken aback.
The distraught Anne recounts what Butch Harrod allegedly told her about the murder plot.

"Are you still concerned for your safety?" Paul Ahler asks her.
"Yes, I am," she says. "Because, in my mind, Butch is not the shooter. Butch had something to do with it, but Butch is not the shooter."

She seems stunned to learn that Harrod's fingerprints were found inside Jeanne Tovrea's home.

Anne testifies that Harrod told her "Hap's sisters and Hap hated [Jeanne]," because she'd gotten the inheritance that the siblings considered their birthright.

"You didn't know a thing about this case," Mike Bernays says during cross-examination, "except what you read in the paper and what you saw on Unsolved Mysteries."

"That's just not true."
On redirect, Ahler asks, "Why did you stay with this man for so long?"
"Because of the fact that he had told me it was a hired hit," Anne says, "that he had contracted men who were very dangerous. I will tell you that I knew that night [of the murder] that someday I was going to get away from this man. . . . It took me a very long time, but I finally did it."

Ahler bats lead-off for the prosecution during closing arguments, and he's in top form.

"It is very disturbing that we may have one or more killers out there who have not been caught, who have not been brought to justice," the prosecutor says, while reminding jurors that Butch Harrod is this trial's sole concern.

Ahler urges the jury to remember that "the fingerprints are the glue which holds this whole thing together."

As for his key witness, Anne Costello, Ahler says: "She is no saint. Anne is not up for any good citizenship awards. This lady has got some demons that she's gonna have to deal with for the rest of her life. She's gonna live with the demon that, had she made that phone call on March 31st, Jeanne Tovrea would still be alive. And she also benefited from some of this blood money, maybe indirectly, and she's got that blood on her hands.

"It's time, ladies and gentleman, that the lying and bullshitting and the conning stop . . . You have the power to tell this man in no uncertain terms, we're onto you, you're not going to get away with this."

Mike Bernays delivers the closing argument on behalf of Butch Harrod.
"It scares me that maybe I have not done enough," he starts, walking behind his client and resting his hands on Harrod's shoulders.

Bernays does a fine job reiterating a few sympathetic facts. He hammers at Debbie Luster here and Anne Costello there for imperfections in their testimony, and at the Costello clan for their animus toward Harrod. He also raises a common-sense question that's on everyone's mind.

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