PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — An Arizona stockbroker convicted of killing his ex-wife was sentenced Friday to spend the rest of his life in prison for what the presiding judge said was a brutal, gruesome crime that he cannot erase from memory.
Steven DeMocker, 60, was sentenced on first-degree murder and six other convictions in Yavapai County Superior Court. Prosecutors said DeMocker bludgeoned Carol Kennedy with a golf club at the Prescott-area home the two once shared, shattering her skull, and staged the home to make it look accidental.
Prosecutors landed convictions in the case by relying heavily on circumstantial evidence. No DNA, eyewitnesses, blood, a confession or other evidence tied DeMocker directly to the crime. Prosecutors told jurors that DeMocker killed Kennedy to cash in on her life insurance policy and to avoid monthly alimony payments at a time when he was deep in debt.
"This was premeditated murder, a brutal murder, and by all appearances, the motive was money," Judge Gary Donahoe said.
DeMocker steadfastly maintains that he is innocent. He stood before Donahoe on Friday to say he loved his former wife and was incapable of violence against her. He echoed the desires of his family who spoke before him in pleading with Donahoe to have a chance to be released after 25 years.
"I did not kill Carol," DeMocker said. "Justice for her is not accomplished by falsely accusing and then condemning the wrong man."
Kennedy was 53 when she was killed in July 2008. Her mother, Ruth Kennedy, was on the phone with her daughter when she heard the words "oh, no!" Prosecutors said it was then that DeMocker emerged from hiding and attacked Carol Kennedy, knowing that she was alone in the house.
The supposed murder weapon never was found.
In a letter to Donahoe, Ruth Kennedy asked for the maximum punishment for DeMocker, calling his actions selfish and violent.
"It seems to me that anything less would not appropriately fit the consequences of his actions," she said.
For DeMocker's daughters, Katie and Charlotte, the more than five years that it took for the case to wrap up was a prolonged nightmare, they said. They spoke of their mother's joyful spirit and compassion, and of DeMocker as a father who took them on outdoor adventures and who was their biggest fan.
"Leave him with some hope and all of us with some hope of someday being together," Katie DeMocker told Donahoe.
But Donahoe said the brutality of the crime outweighed any requests for leniency. Trial evidence included photos of the autopsy, crime scene and of Kennedy's reconstructed skull.
"The thing that I can't get by is this horrific crime scene. I saw these pictures. I'm not sure I'm ever going to be able to erase those pictures," Donahoe said.
Along with a life sentence, DeMocker was given more than 20 years in prison on six other counts with some credit for time served. None of the sentences will run concurrently.
DeMocker is planning to appeal. His family vowed to support him throughout the process, saying they are as disappointed in the sentence as they were in the verdict. DeMocker's attorneys said authorities didn't properly investigate Kennedy's death and that another man could have killed her.
"We certainly still do believe in his innocence," DeMocker's mother, Janice, said outside the courthouse.
Donahoe also ordered DeMocker to pay restitution to Kennedy's estate for money that ultimately was used to pay DeMocker's attorneys in his first trial. That trial ended abruptly in 2010 when DeMocker's defense team quit, citing a conflict of interest.