A Bride of Conviction

Janet Spears will spend Thanksgiving Day alone, but she is not particularly upset about it. It is true that her two teenage daughters will spend the holiday with her ex-husband, and that her house, a modest but modern two-story duplex in Mesa, will seem empty without them. But Janet, a 38-year-old legal assistant, is glad to have the time to relax. Overall, the long weekend promises to be a good one.

On Friday and Saturday, she will see her husband. Of course, she will only get to see him for two hours each day. There will be no privacy during those visits, because her husband, Anthony M. Spears, is on death row, and intimacy is not one of the privileges of Arizona's condemned. Still, visitation on two consecutive days is a rarity. Janet and Tony will have plenty to talk about.

Besides the challenges of day-to-day life--both his and hers--there is Tony's legal predicament. The appeal of his murder conviction is before the Arizona Supreme Court. A decision may be imminent. Or it could be months until the justices decide. There's no telling.

If they wish, Janet and Tony can speculate on his case in great detail. Janet knows the charges, and the legal ins and outs surrounding them, as well as anyone. You see, before she married Tony Spears--before she had spoken a word to him--Janet sat on the jury that convicted him of murder. In fact, she was the foreman of that jury.

Upon reading the preceding paragraph, many people will come to immediate judgment. They will decide instantly that Janet Spears is someone extraordinary, perhaps even a freak. They will conclude that a woman who could vote to convict a man of murder, then marry him, has to be either stupid or unbalanced. Marrying a murderer is unusual. Marrying one you helped convict is, as far as I know, unique.

But those who would judge Janet Spears harshly from their Thanksgiving Day easy chairs are, perhaps, those who might want to pay close attention to her story. Janet Spears believes she has found the kind of love--the direct connection of one soul to another--that most of us profess to want, yet struggle to achieve or maintain.

And as we struggle, who are we to sneer at love that survives in the shadow of an executioner's needle?

Janet Spears grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, the youngest of three children in an upper-middle-class family. Her father, who died in 1984, was a manager at a foundry. Her mother, now 72, was what used to be called a housewife.

Janet says her early years were nothing if not middle-American. She had good parents. She didn't run with the fast crowd. No alcohol, no drugs.

Her parents were not the type to encourage daughters to attend college. So, during her senior year of high school, Janet began working at a Howard Johnson's on the Ohio Turnpike. There, she met her first husband. She was 17, he was 22. "It was the thing to get married. In 1975, I wanted to get married," she says. As with most middle-American marriage stories, children followed--two girls, three years apart.

The family moved to Arizona in early 1989, in part because his parents lived here. The marriage was not doing all that well when Janet was chosen to sit on a jury in 1992, just before Thanksgiving.

Janet was working for a law firm in Mesa when she was selected as juror number six in Maricopa County Superior Court Case CR92-90457, State of Arizona v. Anthony M. Spears. Even so, she knew very little about the criminal justice system. She just felt privileged to do her civic duty.

"I was so excited to be on a jury," she recalls.
She recalls another feeling, too, but it was one she quickly suppressed.
"When I saw my [future] husband there at the defense table ... something hit me. I thought he was very handsome. But then I said, 'Wait a second. I can't do this.'"

Over the next two weeks or so, Janet and the other jurors listened as the prosecution tried to prove that Tony Spears had killed a girlfriend, Jeanette Beaulieu of Chandler, in January 1992.

The state alleged that Spears, then living in San Diego with another woman, persuaded Beaulieu he was going to run away with her. Then, the state claimed, he flew to Phoenix, using a ticket Beaulieu purchased for him, and shot her to death as part of a plot to steal a car and several thousand dollars from her.

Beaulieu's body was found in east Mesa. She had been shot in the back of the head. One news account described the murder as "execution-style."

As Janet watched and listened, police testified that they had found a 9-millimeter handgun at Tony Spears' apartment in California. They said they had found a shell casing in a bush near Beaulieu's body. The casing was said to match the handgun.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
John Mecklin