Two wildly divergent high-profile murder trials are well under way at the Maricopa County courthouse in downtown Phoenix.
On the 13th floor of the Central Court Building, the prosecution's case against Doug Grant is ongoing, though at a pace that would frustrate a snail. (New Times has written extensively about the unique case, in our October 9 and 16 editions).
Down on the fourth floor, Dale Hausner, half of the infamous "Serial Shooter" team, is facing eight murder charges among 87 felony counts. His roommate and onetime co-defendant Samuel Dieteman already has pleaded guilty to two of those murders and is scheduled to be a prosecution witness later in the trial.
Doug Grant murder trial
In no way is the case against Hausner a whodunit.
The evidence against the former local boxing photographer appears rock-solid, and the outcome of his trial seems about as inevitable as the Phoenix summer heat.
However, it's a far different situation in Judge Meg Mahoney's court, where Grant, a former nutritionist for the Phoenix Suns, is on trial for allegedly killing his wife, Faylene, in September 2001.
Faylene drowned in a bathtub at the couple's Gilbert home after ingesting enough of the sleep aid Ambien to render her unconscious.
Grant's case is more of a was-there-a-dunnit than a whodunit. The alleged motives for murder (some money and a former girlfriend supposedly waiting in the wings) so far seem thin — except to Faylene's immediate family, some of whom have been attending the trial daily.
But put aside the trial's pervasive religious overtones (non-Mormons in the courtroom are learning much about the tenets of that faith) and the brazenly biased, often-inept investigation by Gilbert police (that should reveal itself, in spades, as the trial continues).
Also forget for a moment Doug Grant's serious issues as a serial cheater who married a young flame a few short weeks after Faylene died and who apparently failed to call 911 after claiming to find his ostensibly dead wife in the tub.
Instead, consider two relevant questions that will continue to hover over the Grant proceedings until the jury retires to deliberate:
• Could Faylene — a beloved 35-year-old mother of four increasingly fixated (in journals and in conversation with selected friends and family) on what she suggested was her own impending death — have killed herself by accidentally taking too much Ambien before bathing? Or did she take the drug to commit suicide?
• Even if Doug Grant did orchestrate the horrific murder of his wife, as authorities insist he did, where's the proof beyond a "reasonable doubt?"
Chad White, a physician assistant who's one of the prosecution's key witnesses, was scheduled to re-take the stand on December 17. White's potentially pivotal testimony was interrupted because of a scheduling conflict.
The calm and deliberate witness already has refuted the grand jury testimony of Gilbert lead investigator Sy Ray and case prosecutor Juan Martinez's opening statement to the jury, in a critical area:
White told the jury that he, not Doug Grant, had come up with idea of prescribing the Ambien for Faylene early on the evening of September 26, 2001, a few days after the woman claimed to have fallen from a cliff in Utah during the couple's second honeymoon.
Sergeant Ray earlier told a grand jury that Grant had urged White, outside of Faylene's earshot, to prescribe the Ambien, in addition to other medications he already had written up for the injured woman.
For his part, prosecutor Martinez, in his opening statement, also promised jurors that they would hear testimony about how Grant had persuaded White to write what turned out to be the fatal scrip.
"[White] is about to leave," Martinez told the panel last month during his opening remarks, "when the defendant comes up to him and says, 'Well, can you give her some Ambien?' He wants some sleeping pills for her. According to Mr. White and according to his notes, he says, 'Well, that's not a good idea.'
"And, according to his notes, he said that he strictly advised Mr. Grant, because Mr. Grant is the one who's requesting this, not to take the Ambien with any other medication."
But White testified that he had written the Ambien prescription completely of his own volition after completing his examination of Faylene.
"It was at nobody's request — it was my recommendation," White said, to Martinez's visible chagrin. "[The Grants] had asked me, 'What if [muscle relaxant Soma] doesn't help tonight?'" I told them I could [write a] scrip specifically for sleep."
That prescription, White said, was for the Ambien, though he added that he had instructed the couple "not to fill the prescription unless the Soma fails to assist with sleep . . . I did not expect her to take the Ambien that night."
As it turned out, Doug Grant did go to a pharmacy soon after White left the residence that night and returned with several prescriptions filled, including the one for five tablets of Ambien.
By the next morning, Faylene Grant was comatose after being submerged in the bathtub for an undetermined amount of time. Postmortem blood tests showed that she had swallowed each of the sleeping pills, probably shortly before getting into the tub.
In part, the jury will be asked to try to determine whether Doug Grant administered the drug himself as part of a murder plot, or whether Faylene intentionally or otherwise took the Ambien before falling asleep in the tub as her husband slept in the adjacent master bedroom.
That determination promises to be no easy matter. Even the county Medical Examiner's Office couldn't choose among those options, ruling in February 2002 that Faylene's manner of death was "undetermined," an opinion rendered by Dr. Arch Mosley months after the tragedy.
Though the Grant prosecution seemed to take a hit with many of White's statements, Martinez did make points near the end of his first day of testimony.
White testified that Grant had called him (not 911) on the morning after the house call, frantically advising that Faylene had "overdosed" and was in bad shape inside the couple's home.
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The prosecutor then played the 911 call from White in which the physician assistant anxiously told the operator that Grant apparently hadn't called 911 because Grant told him he was "afraid" to.
White told the jury he didn't know why Grant would have said that but speculated "he had gone against some of my orders [not to immediately fill the Ambien scrip]. I don't know . . ."
The day ended with White about to tell jurors what happened after he arrived at the Grant residence on the morning of September 27, 2001.
The Grant trial is expected to last until March.