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. Now he's hoping a study of the maggots found on her body can save him.
Originally scheduled to die June 28, Spears was given a stay of execution on June 2 to pursue appeals.
Beaulieu's body was found in Jan. 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 Faulknerwho recently examined the flesh-eating maggots found crushed and preserved in Beaulieu's clothingsays the date of death is more likely between Jan. 10 and 12.
Spears was at home near San Diego on those dates.
Faulkner, who is head of the entomology department at the San Diego Natural History Museum, 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.
A second forensic entomologist, Dr. Rich Merritt of Michigan State University, is scheduled to view the maggot samples next week.
Lawyers for Spears will have to submit the new maggot theory to the trial court if they hope to win his freedom.
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Though the jury unanimously convicted Spears of first-degree murder, Janet Spears said she was never convinced and told the judge she'd made a mistake the day after the verdict was read.
Spears was sentenced to death in 1993.
Pati Urias, a spokeswoman for the Arizona attorney general, said Spears' conviction was fair.
Althogh Spears was not in Arizona when Faulkner says Beaulieu was killed, Jan. 10-12, he was in the state on Jan. 4, the day the state says she was killed. The state said Spears motive was robbery.
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.
By ALISA BLACKWOOD