Harrod's Fate Now Rests With Judge
By Doug Murphy
May 9, 1998
"I'm not a lawbreaker," James "Butch" Harrod told Judge Ronald S. Reinstein on Wednesday. "I didn't kill anybody."
"Don't kill James Harrod," said defense attorney Michael Bernays. "Don't kill my client."
"The law requires a sentence of death," said prosecuting attorney Bill Culbertson. "And we ask for it."
"No one deserves to be murdered," pleaded Harrod's mother, Marie Wallace, as she tried to keep her emotions in check.
The wheels of justice have turned slowly in the murder of socialite Jeanne Tovrea in 1988. But soon, they may roll right over Harrod, a former Ahwatukee Foothills resident who has spent the last three years in jail and was convicted last November of murdering Tovrea.
On the surface, the case looks like a victory for the Phoenix police and the county attorney's office, but Bernays insisted, "This case has always had a different emphasis than other cases of its ilk."
Tovrea was shot five times in the head while sleeping, after being stalked for several months by a man she knew as Gordon Phillips, later identified as Harrod. Fingerprints of Harrod were found at the scene. Over $35,000 was transferred to Harrod's accounts, according to the prosecutors, to pay for the hit. A jury took less than four hours to find him guilty of premeditated murder.
But from the first day of trial, stepson Ed "Hap" Tovrea, has been repeatedly identified by prosecutors as the one who contracted for the hit and paid Harrod, so that he could get to his father's inheritance. Law enforcement sources continue to this day to say that the case is still open and under investigation, but Harrod is the only person ever charged and the one the state wants to put to death.
In arguing why the death penalty should be given, Culbertson said that Harrod in effect "signed his own death warrant" because he accepted "blood money" from Ed Tovrea to kill Jeanne Tovrea. "He is a hired killer," Culbertson told Reinstein, who will decide if Harrod gets the death penalty or life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years.
But, argued Tonya McMath, also a defense attorney appointed to defend Harrod, if that was true, why hasn't the state charged Ed Tovrea with a crime? "The state must not have proof beyond a reasonable doubt," she told the court. "Or the state prefers Edward 'Hap' Tovrea over James Harrod."
The murder of Tovrea is full of loose ends that have yet to be explained.
Harrod's former wife, Anne Costello, testified that he told her he was going to kill Tovrea. She also said that Harrod told her that he enlisted others to help with the murder. While a second set of fingerprints that have never been identified were found at the scene, Harrod's financial records don't indicate that he made any payments to an accomplice and police have never charged anyone else.
Harrod himself pointed out that his ex-wife didn't call the police, even though she had numerous opportunities. His explanation was that there wasn't anything to call the police about. Her explanation, during the trial, was that she was afraid. What she never explained was why she went on a scuba diving vacation to Barbados with Harrod after the murder if she thought he was a cold blooded killer.
It wasn't evident who was scoring more points with Reinstein, as both sides argued for and against the death penalty, but the defense certainly put up a good fight. Bernays pointed out that Harrod was convicted on an "accomplice theory." He stressed that the prosecution never said that Harrod was the one who actually pulled the trigger, but that he was simply in the house at the time of the murder.
During the trial, Harrod denied ever being in Tovrea's home, and could not offer an explanation of how his fingerprints were found on the window and counter of the house.
Perhaps Bernays' strongest argument against the death penalty was what he called the "terrifying dance with facts and law" to reach some proportionality in sentencing. The prosecution called the murder "cruel, heinous and depraved" and worthy of the death penalty. But Bernays pointed out that in the execution-style murder of eight Buddhist monks several years ago, two juveniles did not get the death penalty.
The decision now rests with Reinstein, who will sentence Harrod on May 27.
Harrod insisted that there was evidence that wasn't turned over in the trial and that there were other people who wanted to do Tovrea harm. "It's all going to come out," Harrod said, referring to possible appeals of his case. "I'm going to fight it every day of my life. I'm not giving up."