Blood and Money

Questions remain about whether a death row prisoner acted alone in the 1988 murder of heiress Jeanne Tovrea

One of Arizona's most enduring murder mysteries resurfaced recently when the convicted killer of Phoenix heiress Jeanne Tovrea returned to court for his re-sentencing.

Now 51, James "Butch" Harrod has been incarcerated on Arizona's death row since shortly after he was sentenced in November 1997 for first-degree murder.

Though the Arizona Supreme Court upheld Harrod's conviction, he and 26 other inmates statewide won re-sentencing hearings after an important U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2002.

Convicted killer Butch Harrod, back in 1995.
Timothy Archibald
Convicted killer Butch Harrod, back in 1995.

The effect of Ring v. Arizona was that the 38 states with the death penalty now must have trial jurors, not judges, determine if "aggravating" circumstances exist in capital cases. The Arizona Legislature later went a step further, also giving jurors instead of judges the power to decide if a convicted murderer should live or die.

Maricopa County jurors were not asked to reconsider Harrod's guilt or innocence in the celebrated case, just whether he deserves to go back to death row in Florence.

Jurors at the ongoing Harrod hearing already have decided that Harrod did kill Tovrea for money, one of those so-called "aggravators" in death-penalty cases. Now, Harrod's defense attorneys are presenting evidence in the final part of the hearing, the mitigation phase. The burden of proof rests with the defense to convince jurors that Harrod's life should be spared.

The most compelling mystery about the Tovrea case isn't whodunit. In fact, no one familiar with the facts of the April 1988 execution-style murder inside a gated community on East Lincoln Drive will be surprised if the onetime self-styled business "liaison" returns to death row.

But lingering questions remain about whether Harrod acted alone in murdering the 55-year-old socialite as she slept in her bed.

Another puzzler is why Harrod never tried to save his skin by implicating onetime pal Edward "Hap" Tovrea Jr. in a murder plot that police and prosecutors always have alleged was driven by money and greed.

Hap Tovrea was Jeanne Tovrea's stepson, and he and his two sisters stood to get about $4 million from their late father's trust fund upon her death. Their father was Ed Tovrea Sr., the powerful patriarch of a pioneer Arizona family, and a World War II hero who had survived nearly three years as a prisoner of war. He died in 1983.

"[Ed Tovrea Sr.] had some substance to him," case prosecutor Paul Ahler told jurors during the 1997 trial. "You don't survive 33 months in a POW camp without having something going for you. . . . Unfortunately, he didn't give those same characteristics to his children. Because it was those children who were the driving force in getting [Harrod] to kill her. . . . Their greed knew no bounds."

None of the Tovreas has been charged in the case. Hap Tovrea lives in tony La Jolla, California, where he apparently was on the evening that his stepmother was murdered. He showed up in court with his attorney months ago to reiterate that he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if called to the stand.

Harrod always has maintained his innocence, and testified both at his 1997 trial and at the recent hearing. But he never adequately explained how his fingerprints got on the kitchen window that afforded the only access to the inside of Jeanne Tovrea's home without setting off security alarms.

Police also identified four more of Harrod's fingerprints on Jeanne Tovrea's kitchen counter and a palm print on weather stripping removed from the kitchen window. (The damning fingerprint trail ended in the kitchen, which has led to speculation by prosecutor Ahler and others that Harrod may have had a co-conspirator in the slaying.)

Jeanne Tovrea was shot five times with a .22-caliber gun, twice in the face and three times behind the head.

Harrod wasn't arrested until September 1995, more than a year after an anonymous caller accused him of involvement in the murder. Detectives had spoken to Harrod shortly after the murder, after phone records revealed a flurry of calls between him and Hap Tovrea around that time.

Harrod didn't have a criminal record before his arrest, and his 1988 interview with police had been forgotten until his name resurfaced years later.

Shortly before the high-profile arrest, Harrod's ex-wife Anne told police (and later testified) that he'd admitted to "facilitating" the murder for Hap Tovrea, but hadn't actually pulled the trigger.

In return, Tovrea Jr. had promised to pay him $100,000 to kill Jeanne.

Trial testimony revealed that Tovrea's company did pay Harrod more than $35,000.

Though Harrod's guilt hasn't been at issue during the current hearing, just his proper sentence, prosecutor Ahler revisited much of the murder case for the new jury, whose members knew little or nothing about it.

Harrod himself provided a firsthand perspective for the panel, again choosing to testify about his allegedly legitimate business relationship with Hap Tovrea. Then, after the jury determined unanimously that he'd killed Jeanne Tovrea for money, he tried to fire his court-appointed attorneys, claiming they have not served his best interests.

It's hard to quantify how the attorneys, Lynn Burns and Lawrence Matthew, did perform during the first part of the hearing. That's because the deputy public defenders were able to keep a New Times reporter from the courtroom because he was listed as a potential witness in the case.

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