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12/9/2012 9:49:00 PM
Document dispute returns to court today
Les Stukenberg, file/The Daily Courier
Steven DeMocker in court in June 2010.
Les Stukenberg, file/The Daily Courier
Steven DeMocker in court in June 2010.
Scott Orr
The Daily Courier

PRESCOTT - A four-day hearing beginning today will determine if, and how, the murder trial against Steven DeMocker will proceed.

The long-delayed hearing addresses a motion filed by the defense team to either disqualify the Yavapai County Attorney's Office (YCAO) from prosecuting the case, or to dismiss the charges completely, because, De`Mocker alleges, the prosecution illegally viewed at least 38 sealed or ex parte court documents.

DeMocker's trial on charges he bludgeoned to death his ex-wife with a golf club in 2008 has been on hold for all of 2012, primarily because of this issue.

Ex parte filings are intended to be seen only by the filing party and the judge. There is a dispute over the sealed documents, which YCAO said are sealed only to keep the public from reading them, not the prosecution.

The material was viewed, and, in some cases, printed, because YCAO staffers had access to them via the county's OnBase computerized document retrieval system due to what Chief Deputy County Attorney Dennis McGrane called "a mistake" in security settings.

The YCAO does not argue the point that members of its staff saw and printed the documents. It does, however, claim there was no harm done to DeMocker's defense, that many of the filings were improperly classified as ex parte, and that, in several cases, paper copies of the supposedly secret documents were file-stamped to be routed to the YCAO office.

Presiding over the hearing is retired Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe, who was called up from Maricopa County to hear the DeMocker case. Donahoe initially denied the motion in question - he has been pushing to get the trial underway - but the Arizona Court of Appeals overruled him in March, ordering him to hold a hearing.

That hearing subsequently was held up for several months because the defense did not want to turn over the documents at issue, claiming that giving them to the prosecution would defeat the whole purpose of their sealed nature and, as defense attorney Craig Williams put it, "re-violate" DeMocker's rights. YCAO said it needed the documents to defend itself.

The defense was not satisfied when the YCAO hired two Phoenix attorneys, Russell Yurk and Georgia Staton, to litigate the case so its own people would not see the materials.

In May, the Court of Appeals ruled against the defense in its efforts to keep from giving the prosecution the documents and, in August, the Arizona Supreme Court agreed.

Williams has filed a list of 22 witnesses he intends to call, including Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, her second-in-command McGrane, Jeff Paupore, a member of the prosecution team and a supervisor at YCAO, Yavapai Nation Judge Joe Butner, who is a former member of the prosecution team, and Jack Fields, supervisor of the YCAO's Civil Division.

Staton's 14-name witness list includes current Clerk of Court Sandra K Markham, her predecessor, Jeanne Hicks, and McGrane.

Before the hearing gets underway, Donahoe will hear arguments on a defense motion to close it to the public, a move opposed by the YCAO and lawyers representing The Daily Courier.

Related Stories:
• Tense exchanges mark day four of DeMocker document hearing
• State files arguments for document hearing in murder trial

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Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, December 16, 2012
Article comment by: To @ Realize This

I believe we were playing the judicial lottery during part of this lapse. After the Ray trial, Darrow needed a break. Ultimately, Darrow retired. Meanwhile, none of the YC judges either wanted or were able to assume the opening as the DeMocker judge. Many of the judges had conflicts via spouses or otherwise. It was thought for a long time that Mackey would take the case. Instead, Mackey found Donahoe, a retired MC judge, at the end of 2011. Donahoe had his own reasons to partially resume his career but I do believe that he is an experienced, capable judge. Donohoe has tried to move this case along, perhaps too fast, by originally dismissing Docugate. But the higher courts required that a formal hearing on the matter be held and Donohoe has complied. Donahoe has patience and perseverance. I have been very impressed with Donahoe who is good at anticipating problems (such as suggesting that YC get outside counsel). The DeMocker case is in good hands.

Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2012
Article comment by: @ Realize This

Response to "@ Realize This": Itís wrong to say that the first year's delay was caused by the change in the defense team. The Courier articles here report that the Docugate motion was filed in February 2011, and that the new defense team was already arguing that motion two months later. The appellate court's decision requiring that this hearing be held was handed down March 2012. What happened between those dates? That's a huge amount of time between filing of a motion and the judge ordering a hearing. When you look at this case closely, itís this kind of stuff that makes people question the efficacy of the local court system.

Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Article comment by: To Realize This

The year before Docugate, there was a change in the defense team causing that year's delay.

Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Article comment by: @ Realize This

Why did the local court system delay so long in holding these hearings? What was the Superior Court doing with this for the first year before the defense sought relief at the Appellate level?

Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Article comment by: Realize this....

...that the motion resulting in this hearing was filed in February of 2011. It takes almost 2 years for the courts here to deal with a single motion. Think about that.

Posted: Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Article comment by: Don't Forget

DeMocker and his defense team have been responsible for the past two years of delays. First, by DeMocker planting evidence in this case. Second, by his first defense counsel quitting over ethical concerns. Third, by the new defense counsel taking an extraordinary amount of time to get up to speed on the case. Fourth, by overplaying the hand on Docugate and filing appeal after appeal all the way to the AZ Supreme Court which denied the petition.

Posted: Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Article comment by: Bill Williams

As I had written about extensively, "we" are paying for several lawyers, we are paying for the ineptness of the court clerks, we are paying for weak prosecutors, we are paying to bring in a Maricopa judge because the entire judge team is conflicted... but we deserve to be in court. To watch. And to remember next time these people come up for election. "WE" were stupid enough to re-elect them.

Posted: Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Article comment by: Complete failure of the YC justice system

The fact that YC has been unable to move this case through the courts for over 4 years is a failure of the county legal system which should alarm and embarrass all its residents. Various sides can point fingers, but bottom line is any court system should be able to deal with whatever legal issues arise and continue on. There is no excuse for a year-long delay to settle if this case even moves towards trial.

Posted: Monday, December 10, 2012
Article comment by: Stop wasting time

Get this over with.....He is using up way to many tax dollars, not to mention I am sure the Detention Officers would love to see him gone so they can go on with normal life in the jail...No extra logs or extra stuff for this man. His defense team are real winners!! and if he is innocent? wow 5 years of his life gone....if guilty then don't give him credit for the time served.

Posted: Monday, December 10, 2012
Article comment by: Complete WASTE Of Court Time

Wonder why this case is dragging? Take a look at today's proceedings - the defense is using the shotgun approach to try and disrupt the true pursuit of justice. It's amateur, unprofessional, and a complete waste of time. They even filed a motion to bar the public from the hearing, a SURE SIGN that they are desperate and lack any REAL evidence to prove their case. Amateur hour is about to end, ...

Posted: Monday, December 10, 2012
Article comment by: Paging Barney Fife

I thought he died. He's been in jail for like 5 years.

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