Arizona Takes Initial Steps to Execute Murray Hooper

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich is pursuing the execution of Murray Hooper, which would be the third in the state this year.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich is pursuing the execution of Murray Hooper, which would be the third in the state this year. Gage Skidmore
This spring, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich resumed executions in Arizona after nearly eight years. So far, two longtime death row prisoners — Clarence Dixon and Frank Atwood — have been put to death by lethal injection.

The next to face the death penalty, the attorney general’s office revealed in July, is likely Murray Hooper, one of three convicted killers in a murder-for-hire case that took place in 1980. At 76, Hooper is the only one of the three who is still alive.

On Wednesday, Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Brutinel ruled that Brnovich can move forward and file a warrant for Hooper's execution, which Hooper's attorneys had attempted to delay.

Now, the court battles begin. Over the next two months, as Brnovich's office moves through the proceedings to complete the execution, attorneys for Hooper will challenge the execution. If a judge ultimately grants the warrant, and it holds up to appeals by Hooper's attorneys, his execution date will likely be set for November.

Hooper was convicted of killing Pat Redmond, a Phoenix businessman, and his mother-in-law, Helen Phelps, in Redmond's home on Christmas Eve, 1980. Pat Redmond's wife, Marilyn Redmond, was shot in the head but survived and testified against Hooper at trial.

The prosecution's theory of the case was that Hooper and William Bracy, who lived in Chicago, alongside Ed McCall, a former Phoenix cop, were hired by Chicago crime boss Robert Cruz to kill Redmond. Redmond had shut down some business dealings with Cruz, and Cruz hoped to take over Redmond's company.

On December 30, 1980, Hooper and Bracy flew to Phoenix and stayed with associates of Cruz. The next day, as Pat and Marilyn Redmond were preparing Christmas dinner, the three hit men arrived at the home, burglarized it, and shot the Redmonds and Phelps in the head. Only Marilyn survived. Then, Bracy and Hooper returned to Chicago.

The prosecution's case rested largely on Marilyn Redmond's testimony, as well as that of two women who Hooper and Bracy spent time with in Phoenix. One of the women tipped off the police about the men's involvement. Attorneys for Hooper questioned the credibility of those witnesses and attempted to establish that Hooper and Bracy had, in fact, been in Chicago at the time of the murders.

Hooper and Bracy were convicted and sentenced to death. McCall was also convicted in a separate trial. Cruz, after a series of mistrials and reversed conviction, was found not guilty in his fifth trial. He later disappeared in Illinois.

Now, Hooper is the last one remaining.

Forty Years On Death Row

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Murray Hooper could be executed as soon as November.
Arizona Department of Corrections
Brnovich announced in July that his office would seek a warrant for Hooper's execution. "Our state recognizes that those who commit the most heinous crimes deserve the ultimate punishment," he said.

Attorneys for Hooper asked Brutinel to delay the proceedings, given that the case was recently transferred to a new attorney. But Brnovich's office pushed back: "Hooper has had nearly 40 years to challenge his convictions and sentences and has been eligible for a warrant of execution for almost five months," attorneys for the state wrote. "The State and Hooper's victims have waited decades while Hooper pursued his right to appeal his convictions and sentences for the horrific crimes he committed."

Brutinel sided with the state. On October 12, a conference will be held on whether the court will issue the warrant. If it is issued, an execution date would be set for 35 days later, or November 16.

The attorney general's office told Phoenix New Times that it would comment on the case once a formal motion for the execution warrant is filed. That could happen as soon as Friday. Hooper's defense counsel, Kelly Culshaw, assistant federal public defender, declined to comment.

The four decades that Hooper has spent on death row is hardly unusual. Death row prisoners have the right to appellate proceedings that can span decades. Hooper only completed this process five months ago, despite his 40 years on Arizona's death row.

Of the 111 people on death row in the state, just 22 of them have, like Hooper, exhausted their appeals. On average, those 22 people have spent 30 years on death row.

The 1980 murders that Hooper was convicted of are some of the oldest crimes in Arizona for which the perpetrator is still awaiting the death penalty. The only Arizona capital case that dates back further is that of Joe Clarence Smith, one of the longest serving death row prisoners in the country. He was convicted of murdering two young women in 1975.

Hooper's execution would be the third since Arizona resumed executions this spring. Dixon was executed in May and Atwood in June. Those executions brought renewed scrutiny to the department's protocols, including its resistance to allowing certain publications to witness executions and its difficulties inserting IVs to administer pentobarbital, the lethal chemical agent.

In 2014, the botched execution of Joseph Wood triggered legal challenges that halted executions in Arizona for years.
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Katya Schwenk is a staff writer for Phoenix New Times. Originally from Burlington, Vermont, she now covers issues ranging from policing to far-right politics here in Phoenix. She has worked as a breaking news correspondent in Rabat, Morocco, for Morocco World News, a government technology reporter for Scoop News Group in Washington, D.C., and a local reporter in Vermont for VTDigger. Her freelance work has been published in Business Insider, the Intercept, and the American Prospect, among other places.
Contact: Katya Schwenk