Murdaugh' s girlfriend, Rebecca
Rohrs, met the victim, David Reynolds, at a bar. Rebecca told Murdaugh
about Reynolds. Murdaugh told Rebecca to entice Reynolds to her house.
When Reynolds arrived, Murdaugh
and his friend, Jesse Dezarn, took Reynolds to a barn at gunpoint.
Murdaugh severely beat Reynolds. Murdaugh and his co-defendant, Dezarn,
bound and gagged Reynolds and put him inside the trunk of their vehicle,
where Murdaugh again beat Reynolds.
After beating Reynolds to death,
Murdaugh dumped Reynold's body in a remote area. Before leaving, however,
he severed Reynold's head and hands, pulled out Reynold's teeth and
buried the body parts.
Presiding Judge: Sherry Hutt
Prosecutor: Mark Barry
Defense Counsel: Jess Lorona
Start of Trial: Guilty Plea
Verdict: Change of Plea-Jan 10, 2000
Sentencing: November 16, 2001
Prior conviction punishable by life imprisonment or death
Non-Statutory: under the influence of drugs at time of offense, chronic
drug abuser, personality disorder, paranoid thoughts, combination of
above may have impacted defendant's mental abilities.
Other non-statutory mitigating circumstances considered cooperation with
law enforcement, lack of a prior criminal record, admission of guilt and
concern for victim's family.
[Direct Appeal pending before the Arizona Supreme Court]
ARIZONA SUPREME COURT
ORAL ARGUMENT CASE SUMMARY
State of Arizona v. Michael Joe Murdaugh
In 1995, Appellant was living with his girlfriend and
Douglas Eggert. Appellant suspected that Eggert was stealing from him
and that Eggert intended to hurt certain people close to Appellant.
Consequently, Appellant decided to kill Eggert. Appellant first
attempted to sedate Eggert by forcing him to drink a mixture of beer and
Valium. When that attempt proved unsuccessful, Appellant ordered Eggert
to climb into the cross-bed toolbox on Appellant’s truck.
Appellant and his girlfriend drove Eggert to the
Central Arizona Project Canal. At the canal, Appellant ordered Eggert
out of the toolbox and directed him to get on his knees. Appellant gave
a gun to his girlfriend and told her to shoot Eggert. When she refused,
Appellant retrieved a nylon bat from his truck and used it to beat
Eggert to death. Appellant then pushed Eggert’s body into the canal
where it was recovered several days later.
A few weeks after the Eggert murder, on June 26, 1995
Appellant’s girlfriend met David Reynolds at a gas station. When
Appellant’s girlfriend returned home, she told Appellant that Reynolds
had propositioned her. Appellant decided to teach Reynolds a lesson.
Appellant’s girlfriend paged Reynolds and invited him to Appellant’s
home. Appellant left with a friend and instructed his girlfriend to page
him as soon as Reynolds arrived.
Appellant received the page from his girlfriend and
returned home to confront Reynolds. He and his friend armed themselves
with a rifle and a handgun and stormed into the house. Appellant began
yelling at Reynolds and ordered him to empty his pockets onto the coffee
table. Appellant continued to yell at Reynolds while Appellant’s
girlfriend and friend went outside to take anything of value from
After keeping Reynolds in the living room for several
hours, Appellant decided to move him into the garage so Appellant could
“figure things out.” Appellant marched Reynolds from the house to his
three-bay detached garage and placed him the trunk of a car. Reynolds
remained in the trunk until the following morning.
In the meantime, Appellant and his friend decided to
dispose of Reynolds’ van. After dumping the van, Appellant stopped for
gas and picked up a third friend. The three returned to Appellant’s home
and went into the detached garage to inject methamphetamine. Appellant
heard Reynolds knocking from inside the trunk and Reynolds told
Appellant that he had to use the restroom. Appellant let Reynolds’ out
of the trunk. When Reynolds turned his back to urinate, Appellant used
the nylon bat and a jackhammer spike to beat Reynolds to death.
Appellant left Reynolds’ body in the garage for the remainder of the day.
Late that night, Appellant and his friend loaded
Reynolds’ body into Appellant’s horse trailer. Appellant then left with
his horses and dogs to go camping. After he arrived at his campsite,
Appellant dismembered Reynolds’ body. Appellant also pulled the teeth
from Reynolds’ head and cut the fingerpads from his hands. Appellant
took Reynolds’ body into the forest and buried his torso in one grave
and his head and hands in another. Back at his campsite, Appellant cut
himself in the leg when he was cleaning his horse’s hooves. He went to a
nearby hospital for treatment and it was there that he was ultimately
Appellant pled guilty to both the Eggert murder and
the Reynolds murder. The State agreed that it would not seek the death
penalty for the Eggert murder but reserved the right to use that
conviction as an aggravating factor in the Reynolds murder.
Before the sentencing hearing on the Reynolds murder,
Appellant elected to waive mitigation. The trial judge ordered the State
to present mitigation and proceeded to sentencing.
The judge found the following aggravating factors:
Appellant had been convicted of another offense for which a sentence of
life imprisonment or death was imposable and the murder was committed in
a cruel, heinous, or depraved manner. The judge did not find any
statutory mitigation, but found the following seven non-statutory
mitigating circumstances: 1) impairment from the use of crystal
methamphetamine at the time of the offense; 2) impairment from chronic
drug use; 3) personality disorder; 4) paranoid thoughts; 5) impact of
the combination of drug use, personality disorder, and paranoid thoughts
on mental abilities; 6) cooperation with law enforcement; 7) lack of
prior criminal convictions; and 8) desire to spare his family and
victim’s family from trial. The court found that the proffered
mitigation was insufficient to call for leniency and sentenced Appellant
to death on November 26, 2001.
Michael Joe Murdaugh