Nov. 13,2009 (Submitted for Rhonda Bodfield’s Reporting Public Affairs class, UofA)
TUCSON: A Pima County jury will decide over the next two weeks if a 59 year-old-man will be put to death for murdering his girlfriend and her children with a baseball bat and wrench 25 years ago.
On the afternoon of Feb. 1 1984, James Granville Wallace waited for 36-year-old Susan Insalaco and her children Anna Monzon, 16, and Gabriel Monzon, 12, to arrive home from work and school.
In his 1984 taped confession, which were played in court this week, Wallace detailed how he pummeled his victims one-by-one, in the neck and head nearly a dozen times each as they came in the front door over about a four hour period.
He called Tucson Police from a friend’s home the next day to confess to the killings, has been in prison since, and will never be eligible for parole.
The Arizona Supreme Court reversed Wallace’s death sentences twice on technicalities and next week prosecutors will again try to have him executed via lethal injection.
Wallace was convicted in 1984 after a plea bargain and was sentenced to death for each of his victims by a judge, a fate he’s asked for since first speaking with investigators.
The high court ruled that the 1984 prosecutors did not establish enough evidence of Wallace’s state of mind during the murders to uphold the death penalty.
The justices threw out a second death penalty sentence after they found a 2005 jury had not been given proper instructions on how to determine depravity and gratuitous violence.
Last week, the current jury decided that Wallace could have known his victims were dead as he continued to beat them, and therefore the death penalty should be considered.
According to Rick Unclesbay, the Pima County Attorney seeking his execution, the legal questions for the current jury are whether or not more violence was used than was necessary to kill Wallace’s victims, and whether he continued to inflict violence after he knew, or should have reasonably known, that a fatal injury had occurred.
“I don’t know why I killed them,” Wallace told Pima County Sheriff’s Detectives in one of the interviews, “I guess I was mad.”
During the interview, Wallace told investigators that he and Insalaco had been fighting over his drinking and she had asked him to move out.
Wallace admitted to drinking whiskey and beer immediately before and after the murders.
“I beat three people to death, I killed them. It was premeditated,” Wallace said at the time.
There was no psychiatric evidence offered in the first trial. Wallace was determined competent to testify in the second trial and current proceedings despite objections by the defense.
Pima County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Bruce Parks described in vivid detail for the jurors the violence unleashed on the victims but could not tell the jury at what point they died.
Parks was not involved in the 1984 investigation and his testimony for the state was based on reviews of the autopsy and police files.
Establishing time of death is not an exact science Parks said.
The 15 person jury of mostly women, remained stoic as they were shown crime scene and autopsy photos of each of the victims.
One of the photos revealed a broken piece of a baseball bat stabbed through Anna Monzon’s throat.
“The skin’s pretty tough and a bat is not the sharpest of objects so it takes quite a bit of force to stab a broken bat into somebody’s body,” Parks said outside the Pima County Superior Courthouse Friday. “I’ve never seen it before and I’ll probably never see it again.”
Dr. Parks could not say which of Monzon’s wounds were fatal, nor whether it would have been evident which blow killed her.
“If (Wallace) doesn’t know when the last blow is than that means he’s not beating on
her when he knows she’s dead,” said Jill Thorpe, one of Wallace’s defense attorneys.
Thorpe is representing Wallace alongside veteran Tucson defense lawyer Eric Larsen at the cost of Pima County taxpayers in lieu of a public defender.
Unklesbay declined to comment on the case but told the Tucson Citizen in Aug. 2008 that “This is probably the most heinous murder case I’ve ever seen.”
The jury will hear again from Dr. Parks and Pima County Sheriff’s Investigators next week.
In an email Thursday night, Larsen said the mitigation phase of the defense case will include two psychologists, one of which testified at Wallace’s 2005 penalty trial.