KINGMAN - News that the Arizona Supreme Court overturned death row inmate Darrell Bryant Ketchner's murder conviction on Thursday morning reached the Mohave County Attorney' Office moments after the state's highest court issued its ruling.
Chief Deputy County Attorney Jace Zack told the Miner the decision is not "fatal" to the state's case.
While Zack indicated the case would be retried, there are logistical issues to consider.
"We are analyzing the case and the availability of witnesses," said Zack. "Then we'll decide how to proceed. This shouldn't be fatal for a retrial, but it will take some time." Still to come is a decision on whether to again seek the death penalty. Mohave County is already in the early stages of a death penalty case against Justin James Rector, a Bullhead City man accused of murdering a child last September.
Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments in Phoenix in October when attorney David Goldberg, a death penalty appeals attorney, argued prosecutors and Judge Rick Williams improperly allowed a witness deemed an expert in domestic violence to profile such cases during Ketchner's trial, which occurred over several weeks in February and March of 2013.
The testimony, Goldberg argued, might have unduly influenced the jurors' opinions regarding Ketchner's intent on the night of July 4, 2009, when he stabbed Ariel Allison, 18, multiple times and stabbed her mother, Jennifer Allison, before he shot her with her own gun in the back of the head. The Supreme Court agreed.
Ariel Allison died. Jennifer Allison recovered after a lengthy convalescence.
Ketchner's attorneys never denied the now-56-year-old longtime Kingman resident committed the murder and attempted murder.
The defense strategy all along was to spare Ketchner from the death penalty. To do that, they had to convince the jury that Ketchner did not enter the Allison home that night with the intent to commit a felony - an essential element of the crime that made him eligible for the ultimate punishment.
Part of that effort came when defense attorney John Napper, now the Yavapai County public defender, vigorously opposed the testimony of Dr. Kathleen Ferraro, who explained the issue of separation assault, which occurs after one party attempts to break off a relationship and the other party resorts to extreme violence in order to regain control of that person.
Napper filed court documents arguing Ferraro should not be allowed to testify before the trial began.
The high court determined the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ferraro's testimony did not "contribute to or affect" the verdict on the murder and burglary charges.
"I applaud John Napper," said Prescott-based defense attorney David Shapiro, who was defense co-counsel at Ketchner's trial.
"The profiling should not have been allowed and John argued against it at trial. John was the one whose expertise led to this and I'm just glad Darrell is going to get a fairer trial."
Ketchner also was convicted of attempted first-degree murder and three counts of aggravated assault. Those convictions stand.
In addition to giving Ketchner the death penalty for Ariel Allison's murder, Williams sentenced him to an additional 57 years for his other convictions.
While Ketchner will likely be removed from death row pending his retrial, he will remain in prison on those sentences.
In fact, he will likely remain in prison until the day he dies, whether naturally or at the hands of the state.
"He's never going to get out of prison even if they (Mohave County prosecutors) don't do anything," said Napper. He noted Williams handed down the maximum sentence allowed by law for each of his convictions.
While the county scrambles to locate witnesses and further review its options, an estimated $1 million has been spent overall on Ketchner's case to date, according to the average cost of death penalty appeals in Arizona following the first wave in the lengthy process.