State v. Murdaugh, CR-01-0421-AP.

CourtSupreme Court of Arizona
Citation209 Ariz. 19,97 P.3d 844
Docket NumberNo. CR-01-0421-AP.,CR-01-0421-AP.
PartiesSTATE of Arizona, Appellee, v. Michael Joe MURDAUGH, Appellant.
Decision Date15 September 2004

97 P.3d 844
209 Ariz. 19

STATE of Arizona, Appellee,
Michael Joe MURDAUGH, Appellant

No. CR-01-0421-AP.

Supreme Court of Arizona, En Banc.

September 15, 2004.

97 P.3d 847
Janet A. Napolitano, Former Attorney General, Terry Goddard, Attorney General by Kent E. Cattani, Chief Counsel, Capital Litigation Section, and Dawn M. Northup, Assistant Attorney General, Phoenix, Attorneys for Appellee

Michael S. Reeves and Michael G. Tafoya, Phoenix, Attorneys for Appellant.


RYAN, Justice.

¶ 1 Michael Joe Murdaugh entered into a plea agreement which resulted in convictions for the kidnapping, robbery, and first degree murder of David Reynolds. The trial judge

97 P.3d 848
sentenced Murdaugh to death for the first degree murder. Appeal to this court is automatic and direct when the court imposes a sentence of death. Ariz.Rev.Stat. ("A.R.S.") § 13-703.04 (Supp.2003); Ariz. R.Crim. P. 26.15, 31.2(b). The court has jurisdiction under Article 6, Section 5(3), of the Arizona Constitution, Arizona Revised Statutes section 13-4031 (2001), and Arizona Rule of Criminal Procedure 31.2(b)


¶ 2 On June 26, 1995, Murdaugh's girlfriend, Rebecca Rohrs, met the victim, David Reynolds, at a gas station.1 Rohrs told Reynolds that she was looking for a job and Reynolds indicated he might be able to help her. Rohrs gave Reynolds a copy of her resume and the two exchanged phone numbers. At some point in the conversation, Reynolds offered to pay Rohrs for oral sex. Rohrs declined his offer and went home.

¶ 3 When Rohrs arrived at the home she shared with Murdaugh, she told him what happened at the gas station. Murdaugh decided to teach Reynolds a lesson and instructed Rohrs to contact Reynolds and invite him to the house.

¶ 4 Rohrs paged Reynolds and invited him to "party" with her and her friend, Betty Gross. Reynolds returned the page and while Rohrs was talking to him, Murdaugh stood nearby and told her what to say. After the call, Murdaugh and his friend, Jesse Dezarn, left to buy methamphetamine. They instructed Rohrs and Gross to page them as soon as Reynolds arrived. Murdaugh also told them to make sure Reynolds did not leave before he and Dezarn returned.

¶ 5 Approximately fifteen minutes after Reynolds arrived at the house, Murdaugh and Dezarn stormed in brandishing firearms. Murdaugh began shouting at Reynolds demanding to know why he thought that he could treat Rohrs "like a whore." Murdaugh continued to yell at Reynolds while Gross and Rohrs left the house to take anything of value out of Reynolds' plumbing van. Reynolds remained in the house with Dezarn and Murdaugh, both of whom continued to wave firearms. Murdaugh ordered Reynolds to empty his pockets onto the coffee table. Reynolds had about $200 in cash. At some point in the evening Murdaugh took the money.

¶ 6 Murdaugh came out onto the porch, while Rohrs and Gross were unloading the plumbing van, and reprimanded them for not wearing gloves. He told them that they had left fingerprints on everything and asked, "Do you know what I am going to have to do now?" Murdaugh instructed Gross and Rohrs to wipe the equipment clean of fingerprints and to place everything back in Reynolds' van. Reynolds likely heard the entire exchange.

¶ 7 While Rohrs and Gross were unloading the van, Murdaugh asked Rohrs to bring him a baseball bat. Rohrs brought the bat into the house and Murdaugh asked her if she would like to take a swing at Reynolds' head. Rohrs declined. Murdaugh also told Gross to take a swing at Reynolds, but she too refused.

¶ 8 At about 11:30 p.m., after Rohrs, Murdaugh, Dezarn, and Gross ate dinner, Murdaugh led Reynolds to his detached, three bay garage. Dezarn, still armed with a firearm, walked behind Reynolds. Inside the garage, Murdaugh ordered Reynolds into the trunk of his Buick so that he could "figure things out." Throughout the night, Murdaugh, Dezarn, Gross, and Rohrs returned to the garage to take methamphetamine.

¶ 9 In the early morning hours of the next day, Dezarn and Murdaugh agreed that they needed to get rid of Reynolds' van. They decided to "ditch" it near Whitman Cemetery. Murdaugh led the way in his vehicle while Dezarn followed in Reynolds' van. They abandoned the van on Cemetery Road and began driving back to Murdaugh's house. On the way, they stopped for gas in Whitman and ran into an acquaintance named Ron Jesse. They asked Jesse for drugs, and all

97 P.3d 849
three returned to Murdaugh's house. From there, Dezarn and Jesse left to get more methamphetamine with the money Murdaugh took from Reynolds

¶ 10 After Dezarn and Jesse returned with the drugs, they and Murdaugh locked themselves in the garage to "shoot up." While in the garage, Murdaugh told Jesse what happened to Rohrs at the gas station and that he had Reynolds locked in the trunk.

¶ 11 At about 8:30 a.m., Murdaugh opened the door to the garage and allowed Gross and Rohrs to join him, Dezarn, and Jesse to take more drugs. Murdaugh opened the trunk to show Jesse that Reynolds was there and Reynolds said that he needed to go to the bathroom. Murdaugh let Reynolds out of the trunk and took him to the corner of the garage to urinate. When Reynolds' back was turned, Murdaugh struck him in the head with a nylon meat tenderizer. After Reynolds fell to the floor, Murdaugh picked up a metal jack hammer spike and continued to hit Reynolds in the face and head. At some point, either before or during the attack, Murdaugh placed a green nylon bag over Reynolds' head. The attack caused three major crushing blows to Reynolds' skull resulting in his death.

¶ 12 After the murder, Murdaugh left Reynolds lying face down in the garage with the bag tied over his head. He instructed Gross and Rohrs to sprinkle horse manure over Reynolds' body and on the blood surrounding his body. The body was left in this condition for the remainder of the day.

¶ 13 At some point after the murder Jesse attempted to leave Murdaugh's home. Jesse, however, was unable to leave the property because of a locked gate. While he was waiting for Murdaugh to unlock the gate, Murdaugh approached Jesse and threatened him. Murdaugh said that if Jesse told anyone about what happened in the garage, he would "kill [Jesse] last and peel the skin off his children." After Murdaugh threatened Jesse, he opened the gate and allowed him to leave.

¶ 14 Around the time of the murder, Murdaugh realized that he and Dezarn had left items in Reynolds' van that would reveal that the van belonged to Reynolds. Murdaugh told Dezarn and Rohrs to retrieve the items from the van. Dezarn ultimately retrieved Reynolds' pagers, wallet, and identification papers and returned to Murdaugh's house with Rohrs.

¶ 15 Later that evening, Murdaugh and Dezarn loaded Reynolds' body into the front right compartment of Murdaugh's horse trailer. Murdaugh told Rohrs to clean up the blood in the garage. Murdaugh then packed to go camping and left with his horses and his dog some time after midnight.

¶ 16 Once at his campsite, Murdaugh dismembered Reynolds' body in an effort to thwart attempts to identify it. He first cut off Reynolds' head and hands. He then removed the finger pads from the hands and pulled all Reynolds' teeth. He threw the teeth and finger pads out the window of his truck as he drove along a forest service road leading to the site where he buried the body. He placed the head and hands in one shallow grave, and the torso in another. Murdaugh then returned to his campsite. From his campsite, Murdaugh placed several calls from Reynolds' cell phone to Rohrs, both at home and to her pager.

¶ 17 The police, who had been notified by Reynolds' family of his disappearance, obtained copies of Reynolds' cell phone records. They discovered that on June 26, Reynolds had made several calls to his company and his girlfriend, and that he had also called Rohrs five times. Officers contacted Rohrs on June 28, and she told them that she had Reynolds' business card and that she was willing to come to the Sheriff's Office to look at a photograph of Reynolds. Rohrs never went to the Sheriff's Office to make the identification. On June 29, the police discovered that Reynolds' cell phone had been used to make four additional calls to Rohrs on June 28.

¶ 18 Also on June 29, police located Reynolds' van on Cemetery Road. They found Reynolds' work boots in the van and discovered that his cell phone was missing. They obtained information from Reynolds' cell phone carrier that the most recent calls from Reynolds' cell phone were originating from the Flagstaff area. That same day, the police

97 P.3d 850
were contacted by a resident of Whitman, Arizona, who told them that a murder had taken place in Murdaugh's garage behind his house. This individual provided information that led the police to contact Jodi Sheeler, who also had information about the murder. That afternoon, the police interviewed Ron Jesse, who told them that he had witnessed Reynolds' murder.

¶ 19 Meanwhile, when Murdaugh called Rohrs, she told him that the police were tracking the calls he made with Reynolds' cell phone. Murdaugh left his campsite and called Rohrs from a pay phone. She told him that she had been contacted by the police but that she had not told them anything about Reynolds. Murdaugh broke Reynolds' cell phone into pieces and disposed of it, along with Reynolds' wallet and papers, near Reynolds' body. Back at the campsite, Murdaugh was cleaning one of his horse's hooves when his knife slipped and severely cut his leg. Because he was unable to stop the bleeding, Murdaugh went to nearby Yavapai Regional Medical Center for treatment.

¶ 20 On June 30, 1995, the police obtained a search warrant for Murdaugh's home and garage. During the search of the garage, they found the scene as Murdaugh had left it: there were blood stains on the floor covered with scattered horse manure.

¶ 21 In the meantime, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office sent out a teletype notifying...

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