". . . I'm on a Conveyor Belt to Death Row"

James "Butch" Harrod contacted New Times through his sister, June Barney, a few months after his September 1995 arrest.

Barney said her brother was unhappy at the time with his attorney, a Maricopa County deputy public defender. She said Harrod wanted to tell his story publicly, no holds barred.

New Times' Paul Rubin spent hours interviewing Harrod over a year's time in a small room at the Madison Street Jail in downtown Phoenix.

Harrod's roots are in Kentucky, where his pioneer namesake--Captain James Harrod--built a fort in 1774 at what's now known as Harrodsburg. The second of four children, Butch Harrod moved to the Valley as a youngster, where he attended schools in Phoenix and Apache Junction before dropping out of high school. He later earned his GED.

A gregarious and an articulate conversationalist, the accused murderer says he's innocent.

During the interviews, he spoke of his alibi for the night of Jeanne Tovrea's murder and comments by his ex-wife Anne (who is expected to testify against him at his trial); about his onetime business associate Hap Tovrea; about "Gordon Phillips"; about the presence of his fingerprints at the murder scene:

* On his theory of the case: "Why is someone trying to set me up? That's what I've asked myself over and over. . . . As far as I can determine, though, 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. But that's why I'm in this position, 'cause they think I can put him right back into the thick of it."

* On the Gordon Phillips tape: "My personal opinion is that it's a crock. There are parts of it that sound like me, but it's also very choppy in parts. I can take your words and make you sound just like anyone. Bottom line, I wouldn't have known the victim if I saw her on the street."

* On his alibi for the evening of the murder: "During that time, I was a cocaine user. That night, I met up with a guy I knew and we went to the old Longhorn Bar at Priest and Baseline over in Tempe. No, I can't tell you his last name because I never got it. We weren't into last names at the time. We had a couple of beers in there and snorted some cocaine. Then we went over to a park near there with a six-pack of beer. That was it. I got home at about 11:15, no later, and Anne saw me and turned right back over and went to sleep, like a thousand times before. I wasn't a party animal, but I also didn't have a regular get-up-and-go-to-work kind of job like she did. I had a couple of glasses of wine and fell out on a couch. About 1:30 or 2, I woke up and went to bed. I hear my ex-wife is going to testify that I got home at 2 in the morning and supposedly told her I had done this murder like I said I was going out to do a few hours earlier. So, hubby went out to do a hit while the wife watches TV for a while, then goes to sleep. Wouldn't she have been plugged into a wall socket?"

* On his ability to negotiate the steep desert terrain near Jeanne Tovrea's home: ". . . I was a lot bigger in those days, and I smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, drank a lot and did some drugs. The thing about committing this act in what they call an expedient manner--if anybody bothers to check my high school records or anything, they'll see I wasn't allowed to compete in physical education because of the ligament and nerve damage in my right foot. I can't run--hell of a deferment for the draft during the early Seventies."

* On his ex-wife and her damaging statements to police: "Anne has had a lot of problems in her life and is a very skittish person. I never thought of her as a bad person, and I know she loved me at one time. After Jeanne's murder, Anne was flipped out because of my connection to Ed Jr. and because we also had a break-in around that time. So I took out a license and got her into shooting. I even bought her her own pistol. I'll say this: Her family hated me so bad they wanted me dead, and I think this has a lot of bearing on things she said. I wasn't this Svengali character that had control of her mind or anything. I never threatened her in my life. All she had to do was call the police at any time and say, 'Psst! Jeanne Tovrea!' and they would have come running. Her statement about me dressing up like Rambo and walking out with an arsenal on the big night--weird. She says on the one hand that I would always keep my file cabinets locked and she knew that's where I kept my guns. Then, how did she know that the guns were missing that night? She didn't even have the key."

* On his fingerprints at the crime scene: "I want to find out how my fingerprints got there. I can't really sit here and honestly tell you I have the answer on that one yet. But it would have been a piece of cake for someone to have planted them there to set up both me and Hap. I don't think the police could conspire in this type of thing, but somebody was obviously planning on doing something and I was the medium. If you want to pin something on somebody, you can do it. I'm hearing the alarm [at Jeanne Tovrea's home] was intentionally set off. I've heard there was an entry made through a window, and that's where my prints were. So I very carefully put my fingerprints on the window? I'm not ignorant. I'm not stupid. I've watched enough TV, good God. Why wouldn't I, if I was gonna do something like that, why wouldn't I want to exit the same way I came in, cleaning as I went out? If someone had the lay of the land, why wouldn't they exit out of the same window? Why panic? It doesn't make sense to me that someone who has enough information to know about the alarm system and everything, where's the panic factor?"

* On other possible suspects: "I'm not gonna dismiss anyone at this point, even Ed Jr., but I'd look at some other members of his family--his sisters, everyone. Ed Jr. used to get pushed around by his sisters. On one occasion, I heard all of this frustration in his voice when he was talking to his older sister [Georgia] about something. He told me one time they didn't get along with Jeanne, that they flat did not like the woman. Everything I've ever seen mentioned is those three [step] kids. But they've left one person out--her daughter. From bits and pieces I got from Ed, she and her mom were not exactly real friendly. I have no proof of this, but she could have had the best of all worlds--get the money and have her mother killed at the same time. I also heard that the Tovrea kids still own a lot of property near the Castle, and that it's worth millions. My understanding is that if they implicate someone in the family such as Hap, then that money will go elsewhere in the family."

* On how he learned of Jeanne Tovrea's murder: "Ed Jr. informed me. I hadn't seen the news that day. He called me early in the morning after it happened, and told me somebody had called him. He was freaked. It was April Fools' Day and he's saying his stepmother got murdered. I said, 'Sick joke.' His voice was what I would call disabled. He was actually scared to death. He said, 'Do I have enemies--I wonder if someone's out to get me.' I said, 'Are you paranoid or what? It was your stepmother, Ed, not your wife.' He goes, 'That was my dad's house.' There was genuine fear in his voice. Why would someone who masterminded this have fear in his voice? Why wouldn't he be a bit of a braggart about it?"

* On possibly plea-bargaining: "I won't be able to plea-bargain for something I did not do. I've heard people say that Ed Tovrea must have something on me. Wouldn't it be me who had something on Ed Tovrea? There are days I sit in here and say this to myself, 'I wish to hell I had done something, so I could say, "I did it, let's cut a plea bargain, let me get out of his hellhole."'

"If I knew something, maybe I would give it up--just because of what it's doing to my family. I've embellished things in my life, no doubt, but I've done a lot of real stuff in my life. If someone says you can't do something, I don't know it. I keep going until I hit the wall. As far as violence goes, I just don't believe in it. I've always been for the death penalty for people who intentionally take another person's life. It's hard to believe sometimes that I'm in this situation. My new lawyers [Mike Bernays and Tonya McMath] are gonna fight hard for me, I know that, but sometimes I get this feeling I'm on a conveyor belt to death row.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin