Guilt Trip

A few days before a Maricopa County jury deliberated the fate of Ahwatukee salesman Brian Eftenoff in March 2001, he had this to say for himself:

"I can't see how they can find me guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of anything, because I didn't do anything."

The panel, however, begged to differ, and convicted Eftenoff of murdering his wife, Judi, then mailing a small amount of cocaine to her parents in North Dakota. Judge Crane McClennen then sentenced the onetime playboy to 57 years in prison, where the 43-year-old Eftenoff now resides. According to the Arizona Department of Corrections, Eftenoff's earliest release date will be in June 2046.

The quirky case in which authorities accused Eftenoff of forcing his wife to ingest enough cocaine to kill her captured local fancy to the point that the media broadcast the verdict live on television and radio.

The network show 48 Hours later aired an hourlong piece on the case, in which it restated the theme of a two-part New Times story ("'Til Death Do Us Part," Paul Rubin, November 23 and November 30, 2000): that the state's case against Eftenoff was remarkably thin of evidence proving murder, but that his arrogant, unrepentant personality was likely to sink him if he testified (which he did).

The prosecution pitfalls included wildly divergent statements by the couple's then-5-year-old daughter about how she'd allegedly seen Daddy hit Mommy at home on the fatal night in September 1999; and a medical examiner who'd performed the autopsy on Judi's body, but wasn't sure a murder had been committed, or if she'd died of an accidental overdose.

On Christmas Eve, the Arizona Court of Appeals ensured that Eftenoff probably is going to be spending a very long time in his maximum-security cell in Florence. By a 3-0 vote, the court upheld Eftenoff's convictions, rejecting the legal arguments raised by his appellate attorneys Cynthia Leyh and Susanne Sternberg.

"Rather than arguing true insufficiency of the evidence," Judge Patrick Irvine wrote, "[Eftenoff's] arguments on appeal amount to no more than alternative interpretations of the evidence and inferences which could be made."

Those arguments included:

That Judge McClennen should have severed the drug transportation charge against Eftenoff from the second-degree murder charge.

That McClennen should have held a hearing to determine if the Eftenoffs' daughter was competent to testify.

That there was "misconduct" by both the prosecution and jurors.

That Eftenoff made numerous "involuntary" statements to police and to a child-custody evaluator.

As for the latter, the court noted, "There is no hint anywhere in the record that Eftenoff's statements were anything but voluntary."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin