The Arizona Supreme Court on July 16 upheld the death-penalty conviction of James "Butch" Harrod in the 1988 execution of Phoenix heiress Jeanne Tovrea. While the high court's unanimous ruling pushes the 48-year-old Harrod one step closer to execution, it does nothing to get to the bottom of one of Arizona's most storied homicides.
"This was a murder for hire," Justice Frederick J. Martone wrote in the 46-page opinion, "not a robbery gone bad."
Harrod, however, remains the only person charged in the murder, even though police and prosecutors often have alleged that Jeanne's stepson, Edward "Hap" Tovrea Jr., orchestrated the killing with a twofold motive: money and hate. He lives these days in posh La Jolla, California, where he apparently was on the night of his stepmother's murder.
Harrod never has admitted his own guilt, much less nailed anyone else for the crime. Hap Tovrea has denied any wrongdoing, and his attorney, Tom Henze, says he will continue to have no comment about the case.
But Jeanne Tovrea's only child, Deborah Luster, says she is pleased with the court's decision, though she generally is against the death penalty.
"The fact that execution is hanging over Butch's head may be a positive thing," Luster says. "I mean, he just might come forward with the truth as it gets closer and closer. I wish that he would do the right thing, and tell the authorities about his real relationship with Hap, and what really happened."
But Harrod has protested his innocence all along.
"I won't be able to plea bargain for something I did not do," he told New Times about a year before his trial. "I've heard people say that Ed Tovrea must have something on me. Wouldn't it be me who had something on Ed Tovrea?" ("Death of an Heiress," February 27, 1997, and related stories.)
If he does "have" something, he steadfastly has refused to give it up. In extensive jailhouse interviews, Harrod told New Times that, "As far as I can determine, I'm not sitting here because of anything I did. I'm sitting here because someone wants Ed Tovrea. Everything the police has done is geared toward prosecuting Ed. I don't believe for a minute that Ed was involved in this."
Prosecutors alleged that Hap had paid Harrod about $35,000 of a promised $100,000 to murder Jeanne. She was shot five times in her bed at her sprawling home near the Phoenix-Paradise Valley border.
Butch Harrod and Hap Tovrea knew each other well, and had been involved in a failed business venture together in China in the late 1980s. Phone records showed that the pair spoke to each other dozens of times in the days before and after Jeanne's murder.
Jeanne was married to Edward Tovrea, a World War II hero and patriarch of the pioneer Arizona clan. Testimony at Harrod's trial in 1997 showed how Hap and his two sisters stood to gain millions of dollars from the Tovrea Estate if Jeanne died.
Police found 18 fingerprints later identified as Harrod's at the murder scene, including several on a kitchen window pane, the only entry point at Jeanne's home that wasn't attached to the security system. Harrod's attorneys suggested at his trial that someone had planted his fingerprints with a prosthetic glove.
During his memorable closing argument, chief deputy prosecutor Paul Ahler told jurors that, when Ed Tovrea had made Jeanne his prime beneficiary, "What he really did was to sign her death warrant. . . . It sealed her fate, because the only way they [Ed's children] could get their hands on that money was to have her dead. Their greed knew no bounds."
Phoenix police arrested Harrod in September 1994, after his ex-wife, Anne, told family and friends that she knew of his involvement in the murder while they were still married. Anne would later testify against her ex-husband, who talked to her about the crime while they were still married.
Deputy public defenders Christopher Johns and James Kemper filed Harrod's automatic appeal. The pair tried to convince the high court that Judge Ron Reinstein shouldn't have allowed Anne Harrod to testify that she'd left her husband because she couldn't live with someone who could be involved in a homicide. The appellate attorneys also claimed Anne shouldn't have been permitted to tell jurors about "acts she observed," including a description of how Butch had dressed and acted on the night of the murder.
The high court said Reinstein, one of Arizona's most experienced criminal-trial judges, had done the right thing. "Once [Butch Harrod] testified, it was appropriate to allow the jury to hear Anne's testimony . . ."
Prosecutors at the trial first asked Reinstein to let Anne testify about what her then-husband had told her about the murder plot. Reinstein denied the request, saying that information was protected by a law that keeps spouses from testifying without consent about discussions they may have had while married. (Those "confidential communications" survive the marriage, as in the case of Butch and Anne Harrod.)
However, Reinstein did allow Anne Harrod to testify to what she'd "observed, overheard or did with [Butch] in relation to this case."
Butch himself then opened the door for more testimony from Anne after he told jurors that he'd never implicated himself or Hap Tovrea in the murder. Prosecutors then argued that he'd waived the marital "privilege."
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Prosecutors then got far more damning testimony from Anne.
Paul Ahler says he and co-prosecutor Bill Culbertson were relieved when they learned of the ruling. "We were a little nervous on the marital privilege issue, because the way it came up in this case was so unique, and because there's so little case law on the matter. We especially like that the decision was unanimous."
Butch Harrod remains on death row in Florence, awaiting the next step in the long appeal process that could end in his execution. His case next will be heard by the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is based in San Francisco.
"There is no such thing as failure," he told New Times before his murder conviction. "Failure is when you don't try something. . . . You have to step outside of the comfort zone to do it, which means you have to step out on a limb."