Daughters' rights complicate murder case
They believe father, accused of bludgeoning mother, is innocent
PRESCOTT - There is a reason Katie and Charlotte Democker want the man accused of murdering their mother out of jail.
The defendant is their father, Steven Democker, who is now on trial in a case that could lead to the death penalty if the wealthy investment adviser is convicted.
Yavapai County sheriff's deputies gathered enough circumstantial evidence to file charges in a murder mystery that has horrified, captivated and divided Prescott from day one. They contend that Steven savagely beat his ex-wife, artist Carol Kennedy, in her Williamson Valley home nearly two years ago. They say Steven, 56, searched the Internet for information on how to disguise a homicide and bought books on how to disappear as a fugitive afterward.
"The circumstantial evidence against defendant is overwhelming," deputies say in court papers.
The sisters say their dad is not guilty - a position that puts them at odds with prosecutors in a legal battle over their rights as crime victims.
"My father, my dad, is the most compassionate, supportive, brilliant man I know," Charlotte, now 18, wrote in a prepared statement to the judge, provided to The Arizona Republic by her attorney. "If there is one thing I just know, it is my father is not capable of what he is accused of."
Under the Victim's Bill of Rights, a constitutional amendment adopted by Arizona voters in 1990, the young women are entitled to confer with prosecutors about decisions in the case. But, because the sisters are aligned with the defense, the Yavapai County Attorney's Office pressed them to renounce their rights, then declined communications with them.
Chris Dupont, the sisters' attorney, said they want no publicity but have been thrust into a constitutional controversy. "This is not a story about them having to choose sides," Dupont added. "They loved their mother. They love their father. And they believe he is innocent."
Steven Democker's trial is now in its third week of jury selection in Prescott. Testimony is expected to last three months, with more than 100 witnesses scheduled.
None of them will place Steven at the scene. Neither his fingerprints nor DNA was found. The murder weapon is missing.
Still, deputies gathered reams of information and statements which, they say, prove that he used a Callaway No. 7 Big Bertha III golf club to end years of financial feuding with Kennedy, whom he had recently divorced.
Defense attorneys Larry Hammond and John Sears answer in court papers that Steven had no financial motive to kill his ex-wife. They say police botched the investigation. And they point out that DNA from three unidentified men, not Steven, was found beneath the victim's fingernails.
Grim death of Carol Kennedy
Kennedy, a psychotherapist, painter and former Prescott College faculty member, lived alone in a house on North Bridle Path, in an oak-dotted rural neighborhood a few miles north of Prescott.
Court records describe the final day of her life:
On July 2, 2008, she completed an evening jog through the hills and sat down for a phone call with her mother in Nashville.
Ruth Kennedy told detectives her daughter mentioned Steven's failure to pay alimony and discussed plans to see a lawyer. Twenty minutes into the conversation, at 7:59 p.m., there was an exclamation - "Oh, no!" - and the line went dead.
Ruth tried calling back but got no answer. She phoned other relatives. She dialed Steven, leaving a message. Finally, she contacted the Sheriff's Office.
A deputy arrived at the house and pointed his flashlight through a window, illuminating Carol Kennedy's body on the floor in a pool of blood. Someone had toppled a bookcase and moved a ladder to make it appear she had fallen.
The autopsy found Kennedy's skull was fractured in 50 or more places by at least seven blows, consistent with the strike of a golf club.
"The severity of the injuries suggests her attacker was in a rage," a search-warrant affidavit notes. "Rage often suggests a relationship between the attacker and the victim."
Moments after the body was found, Charlotte, then 16, arrived at the house with her boyfriend. Charlotte was on a cellphone with her dad when deputies advised that her mother was dead. She dropped the phone.
A deputy began speaking with Steven, who explained that family members had asked him to check on his ex-wife, but he sent Charlotte because he didn't feel comfortable doing it.
Steven then asked about his daughter: "She hasn't . . . what kind of state is Carol in? She hasn't seen Carol, has she?"
After driving to the house, Steven volunteered that he and Kennedy had gone through a difficult divorce. He was paying $6,000 a month to his ex-wife, plus most of a 401(k) valued at $190,000. They had exchanged text messages earlier in the day, disputing the finances.
Still, Steven said he and his wife had chatted amicably over coffee a few days earlier.
"We were talking about starting to date again," he said. "I loved Carol."
Asked where he'd been, Steven told deputies he had gotten a flat tire while mountain biking on dirt trails, starting 1 1/2 miles from his wife's house, at 6:30 p.m., ending 10 miles away and three hours later.
As the interview continued, Steven wondered aloud: "So, I'm a suspect?"
At Kennedy's house, deputies noticed loosened lightbulbs in the laundry room. They took impressions of footprints near the house leading to bicycle tracks that stopped about 100 yards away.
At the same time, Yavapai County Medical Examiner Philip Keen was examining the body. He observed indentations in Kennedy's head that might have been left by a golf club.
With that information, and while Steven was still being questioned, investigators returned to his house. Pictures taken in his garage during the first visit, hours earlier, showed a golf-club cover on a shelf in the garage. When they returned, however, the cover was gone.
The investigation dragged on for weeks. Detectives found that Steven was the beneficiary of Kennedy's life-insurance policies, worth $750,000. They contacted experts who said tracks at the scene were similar to treads on Steven's bike tires, but not a conclusive match. They learned that the shoe prints were of the same type as a pair Steven once owned.
On Oct. 23, 2008, after nearly three months, detectives arrested Steven Democker in Phoenix at his UBS Financial Services office, where he worked as a financial adviser, taking home $300,000 to $500,000 a year. Steven, who had no history of violence, asked how deputies could believe that he "just suddenly erupted in a blind rage after 5 1/2 years of relatively amicable separation."
Deputies asked about the missing golf-club cover. Steven said he did not remove the item from his garage, He said he found it one day later, in a friend's car, and gave it to his attorney. Without elaborating, he added, "There is an explanation."
During the arrest, detectives told Steven they knew he'd applied for a replacement passport by claiming the original was lost, when in fact he had surrendered it to authorities. They asked him to explain his purchase of books with titles such as "How To Disappear Until You Want To Be Found." They also wondered why his motorcycle was packed for travel, with a map of Mexico.
Steven said he had no alibi and feared arrest, so, in a time of panic, he made plans to abscond. "It was stupid, fear-based stuff," he said.
Defense lawyers, in turn, accuse police and prosecutors of blindly focusing on the ex-husband and not looking at Kennedy's tenant, whom they say was involved with drug trafficking.
Opposite sides of the courtroom
During jury selection last week in court, Ruth Kennedy listened attentively beside a Yavapai County victim's advocate, awaiting the day she will testify against her former son-in-law.
As the hearing proceeded, Charlotte slipped into the courtroom. Spotting her grandmother, the teenager flashed a smile and gave a tender hug.
Later, Ruth returned to a seat reserved for victims. Charlotte followed, walking past her grandmother to a bench behind the defense table, backing her dad.
Under Arizona law, the Democker sisters are guaranteed treatment with dignity and a right to confer with prosecutors. According to court records, however, the daughters were blocked from contact with their father for weeks after his arrest and pressured to renounce their rights as victims. Prosecutors declined to comment for this story.
Dupont, the lawyer for the daughters, said state lawyers feared they might be a conduit of information to the defense. As recently as April, he complained to the court that his clients' rights were being violated and that prosecutors "tried to punish the girls for taking a contrary position."
Keli Luther, senior counsel for the non-profit Arizona Voice for Crime Victims, said there are occasional cases where children of defendants are at odds with the state's attorney. Unlike other witnesses, victims are entitled to attend court proceedings, receive police reports and request information from prosecutors.
"It makes it more challenging," Luther said. "But they still have a constitutional right to protect, whether it's awkward or not."
Richard Lougee Jr., a Tucson attorney, said prosecutors take advantage of the law when victims are gung-ho for a conviction.
"But when the victim backs off and doesn't want blood," he added, "very often a prosecutor will simply cut them out of the process."
Dupont said Charlotte Democker finally was granted a private audience last month with Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, who listened as Charlotte's representatives asked for dismissal of the death-penalty petition. When the session ended, Dupont said, Polk made a quip about the length of the presentation."That was it," Dupont said. "Her response to the whole thing was to make a joke about the death penalty, right in front of Charlotte's face."http://www.azcentral.com/12news/news/articles/2010/05/21/20100521prescott-man-accused-of-killing-wife.html