Money Pit: Andy Thomas’ Death-Penalty-Laden Years as Maricopa County Attorney

Mike Terribile and Treasure Van Dreumel made lots of money defending recently convicted murderer Jeff Martinson on the taxpayer's dime.

The actual sum is almost $1 million per attorney over the past 28 months for work in the tragic and highly controversial case.

New Times wrote about State of Arizona vs. Martinson in last week's issue. Titled "Eating Jeff," the story revealed serious allegations of juror misconduct that may win Martinson a new trial, sooner than later.

Jeff Martinson's indigency didn't stop his attorneys from making enough public money to afford a Bentley and an office building.
pool photo by Darryl Webb/Ahwatukee Foothills News
Jeff Martinson's indigency didn't stop his attorneys from making enough public money to afford a Bentley and an office building.
Andy Thomas' tough-on-crime posture was hugely expensive for taxpayers, plus ineffective.
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Andy Thomas' tough-on-crime posture was hugely expensive for taxpayers, plus ineffective.

The jury convicted the Ahwatukee man of first-degree felony murder and child abuse in the August 2004 apparent drug overdose death of his son Josh, who was 5.

But the panel couldn't decide whether to impose death or life.

Superior Court Judge Sally Duncan declared the jury hopelessly hung (two panelists voted for death). A retrial on the sentencing phase will be held later — that is, if Duncan doesn't order an entirely new trial because of pending legal issues.

Terribile and Van Dreumel became Jeff Martinson's legal team in late 2009, more than five years after little Josh died.

That was long after what Judge Duncan called "a three-ring circus" of a case entered the criminal justice system. The judge referred to the incessant trial delays and 11 prior defense attorneys (mostly from Maricopa County's public agencies) who had come and gone for a variety of reasons.

Until recently, the money deal Terribile struck with county judicial officials was more controversial in courthouse circles than the Martinson case itself.

The veteran Phoenix attorney agreed to lead the Martinson defense at a trial within 18 months, but he wouldn't settle for less than $300 an hour. That was far more than the $125 an hour private attorneys are paid as "first chairs" (lead lawyers) in county death-penalty cases.

Van Dreumel, another experienced capital defense attorney, signed on for $250 an hour as Terribile's "second chair," almost three times the $90 an hour that the county usually pays.

The grumbling inside the gabby criminal-defense community began as soon as word of the unique Martinson deal got around (which took all of about a day).

Several attorneys contacted New Times with titillating tips of a Bentley and a newly purchased office building financed by taxpayers for Terribile and Van Dreumel in Martinson.

More than one source referred to Van Dreumel's "Martinson-mobile," the Bentley that she was said to have purchased with the substantial sums collected while representing the broke Mr. Martinson.

"Nice work if you can get it," sniffed one of Van Dreumel's peers, who wouldn't be quoted by name.

New Times first approached the Martinson case with that money angle in mind, though the story morphed into the juror-misconduct tale.

But sure enough, public records reveal that Arizona vs. Martinson cost county taxpayers $3 million and counting, including the $2 million in attorney fees.

And, yes, a limited-liability corporation with Terribile listed as a director did buy a beautiful old building in downtown Phoenix last June.

As for the Bentley, Van Dreumel confirms that she purchased a used model since going to work as the number-two attorney on the murder case.

But here's the rub, and it's an important one:

Both attorneys made a legit deal with judges desperate to find someone who finally would get the Martinson case to trial after a maddening series of delays.

Judge Timothy Ryan, then the county's assistant presiding criminal judge, "hired" Terribile and Van Dreumel within days after testily allowing two lawyers from the Public Defender's Office (who apparently did nothing to advance the case for more than a year) to resign.

This all happened during the peak of then-Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas' onslaught against what Thomas decried were "corrupt" judges who allegedly coddled accused violent criminals and their slimy, stalling, victim-hating defense attorneys.

Thomas' office issued a position paper about the state of the death penalty in Maricopa County, predictably blasting the judiciary and defense bar.

It came on the heels of an American Bar Association study concluding that prosecutors, including those in Arizona, use inconsistent standards to seek the death penalty and that most states severely underfund attorneys who represent poor people in death-penalty cases.

One of the Thomas camp's prime targets was Ryan, a respected former murder prosecutor who had specialized in crimes against children.

A Thomas henchman accused Ryan in one court filing of showing "a persistent pattern of conduct that indicates bias and prejudice" against the County Attorney's Office. The henchman futilely demanded Ryan's removal from all future criminal cases.

One of Ryan's most critical and thankless jobs at the time was trying to keep death-penalty cases moving forward, either toward trial or to a plea bargain.

Even under the best of circumstances — which these decidedly were not — death-penalty cases are painstakingly difficult to process through Maricopa County's justice system in any time frame that could be called "reasonable."

For any number of reasons — most of them perfectly sound — usually it takes at least two years (but surely not seven, as in Martinson) from arrest to capital trial.

But Judge Ryan was none too kind to Martinson's deputy public defenders in a memo filed in October 2009, shortly before he endorsed Terribile and Van Dreumel's appointments to the case.

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