My first fear was that she had taken her life ... I always believed Steve would be the death of her, either by a stress-related illness or because she couldn't withstand any more heartache. When my mother told me Carol had been murdered, I just said 'Steve.' —Debbie Wren Hill, victim's friend
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The last words Carol Kennedy's mother heard from her daughter on the phone were "Oh no."
It was during that call, prosecutors say, that Kennedy's ex-husband Steven DeMocker emerged from hiding in the trees and bludgeoned the 53-year-old woman to death with a golf club.
Prosecutors argued that the motive for the ex-husband, who once earned $500,000 annually as a financial adviser but was in deep debt, was to avoid $6,000 in monthly alimony payments shortly after the couple's divorce settlement and to cash in on a $750,000 life insurance policy.
More than five years after the July 2008 killing, the case is drawing closer to an end. Jurors found him guilty of first-degree murder and six other charges in October and a judge this week denied a motion for a new trial. Prosecutors hope to send the 60-year-old DeMocker away to prison for life while he maintains he is innocent.
"Make no mistake, this was a beating murder committed by an enraged, hateful defendant," prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
DeMocker's attorneys argued before a judge Wednesday that the evidence wasn't sufficient to convict their client. The judge disagreed and set another court hearing for Jan. 24 to give defense attorneys a chance to argue for a more lenient sentence.
Prosecutors relied heavily on circumstantial evidence to land a conviction. The supposed murder weapon — a 7-wood — never was found, and authorities didn't have DNA to tie DeMocker to the scene, witnesses or a confession.
Prosecutors told jurors that DeMocker knew Kennedy's routine of running in the woods behind her home, plotted the murder, staged her home to make it look accidental and filed for the insurance payout. He was out of cell phone contact for hours after Kennedy's death, which prosecutors said was uncharacteristic, and stashed money and clothing on a golf course near his home.
Prosecutors told jurors that shoe prints found near Kennedy's home matched footwear that DeMocker owned and that bicycle tracks were of the same tread as a bicycle that DeMocker rode to Kennedy's home.
Authorities arrived at Kennedy's home to find her skull shattered. Experts testified during trial that the breaks were similar in shape to a golf club. DeMocker had a golf club cover in his home that authorities saw but then disappeared and was later turned over to DeMocker's attorney. Prosecutors say that tied him to the murder weapon.
Despite a painstaking search for blood and other evidence in DeMocker's car, washing machine, pipe drains, and at his home and office, authorities came up empty-handed, said defense attorney Craig Williams.
"The reason they didn't find anything is because he didn't do it," Williams said.
There's been no shortage of bizarre details in the case: The medical examiner transported Kennedy's body in the bed of his pickup truck for a forensic anthropologist examination. The original judge collapsed in his chambers and later died from a brain tumor. DeMocker bought books on how to evade authorities, and the case has been filled with conflicting evidence and allegations of extramarital affairs.
Ruth Kennedy, of Nashville, had no idea what happened to her daughter 1,600 miles away in Prescott when the call dropped that July afternoon. Kennedy's family reached out to DeMocker to check on Carol Kennedy, but they couldn't immediately reach him by phone. Ruth Kennedy eventually called police, who found her daughter in a pool of blood, her skull shattered by at least seven blows to the head.
DeMocker's attorneys claim the killing could have been committed by a man who lived with Kennedy at the time but who wasn't properly investigated. Investigators dismissed him as a suspect after his alibi of taking care of his son checked out.
DeMocker told authorities that he loved Kennedy and despite bickering over finances, they had a friendly chat over coffee a few days earlier and talked about reconciling.
DeMocker arranged to have his younger daughter, Charlotte, 22, send an anonymous email from a cafe in 2009 claiming that gang members killed Kennedy, according to trial testimony. He also floated a story about a "voice in the (air) vent" at the Camp Verde jail that told him Kennedy was "killed by two guys from Phoenix."
Carol Kennedy's close friend, Debbie Wren Hill, told Judge Gary Donahoe in a letter that Kennedy adored DeMocker but he also caused her great emotional damage because of his transgressions.
"My first fear was that she had taken her life ... I always believed Steve would be the death of her, either by a stress-related illness or because she couldn't withstand any more heartache," Hill wrote. "When my mother told me Carol had been murdered, I just said 'Steve.'"
DeMocker was arrested while working at UBS Financial Services in October 2008. He was denied Kennedy's life insurance payment because he was a suspect in her murder. Most of the money ultimately went to pay attorneys in his first trial, which ended abruptly when his defense team quit, citing a conflict of interest.
Williams said DeMocker was not angry with his wife over money, a statement that was contradicted through trial testimony. Defense attorneys said DeMocker was on a bicycle ride during the time Kennedy was killed and made no attempt to hide the scratches on his body that he got while out in the woods when he showed up to his ex-wife's house that night to console his daughter.
Kennedy was a spiritual person who loved her flower garden and whose art career was ready to take off, said her brother, John Kennedy.
"He murdered a beautiful woman, and he did it for the lowest of reasons — for money," he said.