PHOENIX (AP) â€” A man awaiting execution on Arizona's death row is pinning one of his final attempts at salvation on a bunch of unlikely saviors: maggots.
Anthony Spears, 41, convicted of murdering Jeanette Beaulieu and dumping her body in the desert, has maintained his innocence since his 1992 arrest. Eight years later, he's sticking to his story â€” and hoping a study of the maggots found on her body can save him.
Beaulieu's body was found Jan. 19, 1992, at a shooting range east of Phoenix. She had been shot in the back of the head. Based on the decomposition of her body, a medical examiner put the murder date at Jan. 4.
However, forensic entomologist David Faulkner â€” who recently examined the flesh-eating maggots found crushed and preserved in Beaulieu's clothing â€” says the date of death is more likely between Jan. 10 and 12.
Spears was at home near San Diego on those dates.
Faulkner said the maggots couldn't have been much older than 10 days when they were mummified in clothing removed from the victim shortly after her body was found. That would rule out Jan. 4 as a possible date for the murder unless the body was frozen at some point, he said.
With capital punishment under growing national scrutiny, the case is a twist on more traditional avenues of appeal, including DNA testing of evidence.
Studying the life span and development of insects found at crime scenes can help determine the date of a victim's death. Faulkner said it takes only moments for the insects to appear after someone dies.
He has studied insects at crime scenes since 1981 and is the head of the entomology department at the San Diego Natural History Museum. A second forensic entomologist, Dr. Rich Merritt of Michigan State University, is scheduled to view the maggot samples next week.
The samples were not studied during Spears' 1992 trial. Faulkner and Merritt were hired to look at Beaulieu's case by friends of Spears' wife, Janet â€” who married Spears after serving as the foreman of the jury that convicted him.
Though the jury unanimously convicted Spears of first-degree murder, she said she was never convinced and was ``beat up mentally'' by other jurors who were tired and wanted her to make a final decision. The day after the verdict was read, she told the judge she'd made a mistake.
It was too late. Spears was sentenced to death in 1993.
Janet Spears, now a third-year law student in San Diego, said she began visiting Spears after rereading transcripts from his trial. They were married in 1994.
``The only way he could've have killed her is if he killed her from California,'' she said.
Lawyers for Spears will have to submit the new maggot theory to the trial court if they hope to win his freedom.
Spears filed a motion himself in Arizona Supreme Court on June 2, saying that his lawyer, Jess Lorona, had mostly ignored him in the last two years. Lorona did not return messages for comment.
Kent Cattani, chief of the Arizona attorney general's death penalty appeals unit, refused to discuss the merits of Spears' claim. Pati Urias, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said Spears' conviction was fair.
Although Spears was not in Arizona when Faulkner says Beaulieu was killed â€” Jan. 10-12 â€” he was in the state on Jan. 4, the day the state says she was killed.
He had flown to Phoenix on Jan. 2 with a one-way airline ticket purchased by the 39-year-old Beaulieu, and he brought a 9mm handgun with him, according to court documents. A shell casing determined to be from that gun was found among the thousands of others at the shooting range a week and a half after Beaulieu's body was found.
Spears drove back to California on Jan. 4 in a truck he bought from Beaulieu. San Diego authorities found a notarized title from Beaulieu in the glove compartment.
Evidence presented during the trial demonstrated that Spears plotted to kill Beaulieu to steal her truck, guns and about $1,000 the victim obtained through cash advances on her credit card.
``I see a big error here,'' said Janet Spears. ``My purpose is not to say the death penalty is wrong. But if you're going to execute somebody, you'd better be damn sure you've got the right person.''