'Til Death Do Us Part

Page 2 of 9

"Do you consider me the lead suspect in this, Joe?"

"I consider you a strong investigative lead. You're the closest person to the victim."

During an interview with New Times in April, Brian said, "Joe is sure I killed Judi somehow, but there's no way they can bust me, because there's nothing to bust me on."

A county grand jury decided there was. On May 30 of this year, Phoenix police arrested Brian Eftenoff on one count of second-degree murder, and on a charge of mailing a small amount of cocaine to Judi's parents after she died. A judge ordered him held in lieu of $500,000 bond at the Madison Street Jail, where he's been ever since.

At a press conference announcing the surprise arrest, County Attorney Rick Romley praised Petrosino for cracking the case. Romley provided only one investigative tidbit, saying "the [Eftenoff] children will be witnesses in this case."

Phoenix police reports released that day depicted Eftenoff as a violent, drug-abusing philanderer who had forced his wife to engage in extramarital sex with other women -- some videotaped. The reports also claimed little Rikki told a counselor she'd seen "Daddy hitting Mommy" allegedly in the hours before Judi died.

The case is scheduled for trial on December 6. Prosecutor Kurt Altman will try to convince jurors that Brian beat his wife before he and his pal went to the casino. He'll argue that, before leaving, Brian forced cocaine down Judi's throat, which led to her fatal stroke. Altman will point to the unusually large amount of the drug found in Judi's stomach, and to small injuries on the inside of her throat, and ask jurors to consider how else it could have happened except at Brian's hand.

Brian denies it all. "I think the jury will see that my case [has] lots of glitz and flash, but no substance," he says. "Bottom line, certain people in authority didn't like my lifestyle. They feel I'm a wife beater and a child mistreater, but they don't have the proof and they never will, because it never happened."

He's right about the lack of substance.

Over the past six months, New Times has spent more than 20 hours interviewing Brian Eftenoff about his wife's death. Extensive interviews have also been conducted with friends and neighbors of Judi and Brian Eftenoff, with toxicologists, pathologists, therapists, psychologists and others. More than 1,200 pages of police reports, courtroom testimony and other documents were reviewed.

And it appears the case against Brian may be more the result of misplaced zeal and a quest for vengeance than sound police work. The New Times investigation, in fact, raises serious questions as to whether there even was a murder at the Eftenoff residence that September night.

Brian Eftenoff is an unsympathetic character whose arrogance and dedication to himself are his most notable personality traits. The antipathy many hold toward Brian is palpable. They want him to be guilty. That list includes a former Child Protective Services caseworker who dealt with Brian for months after Judi's death and calls him "a Ted Bundy look-alike, a, quote unquote, handsome guy . . . who's a sociopath capable of anything."

In this installment, New Times follows the Eftenoffs up to the night of Judi's death. Next week's story will analyze the prosecution's flimsy murder case against Brian, and show how the grand jury and other proceedings were tainted by misleading and inaccurate testimony by Detective Petrosino.

August 23, 1994, is a seemingly routine early morning at the Eftenoffs'. Brian is videotaping his daughter, Rikki, then about two and a half years old, as she plays. Someone on television is gabbing about the latest in the O.J. Simpson murder case.

Clad in pajamas, Judi makes a silly face at the camera and sweet-talks her first-born. Brian goo-goos at Rikki, who smiles and makes happy sounds. It's the picture of domestic tranquillity. But that image is grossly misleading, according to friends and family members who watched the couple's brief marriage spiral into tragedy.

The Eftenoffs had been married about three years when the videotape was made. At the time, he was expanding his wholesale auto parts and car alarm business, and she was working in the men's department at a Neiman Marcus store. Brian was 10 years older than Judi, and this was his second marriage; it was Judi's first.

Motherhood naturally had made more of a homebody of Judi -- who then was about 25. Fatherhood, however, hadn't done much to tame Brian. A self-described "jet-setter," Brian still loved to hit the nightspots, even after Judi put a wedding ring on his finger.

A strapping blond man who shared his late wife's model good looks, Brian was a regular habitué of the Scottsdale club scene. There, drugs, sex and superficiality rule the night, and it's always hunting season for the pretty boys and girls, whatever their marital status.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin