Reasonable Doubt

Is Brian Eftenoff Guilty Of Murder?

When beautiful young mother Judi Eftenoff died of a cocaine overdose in her Phoenix house, it seemed like a terrible accident. Then police arrested her husband, Brian, and charged him with murder. After a five-week trial, a jury reaches a verdict - but that's only the beginning of the story. Was her death an accident, or a murder? Erin Moriarty investigates.

Around 5:15 am, on a September morning in 1999, Brian Eftenoff says he arrived home after a long night out with his best friend, and discovered his wife on the bathroom floor of their Phoenix home. He called 911, but she was dead.

With the Eftenoff's two children, 5-year-old Rikki and 3-year-old Nicholas, safely with the neighbors, police set about trying to figure out how this young mother died.

Because of the bruises on Judi's body, police initially suspected an assault. But there were no signs of a break-in, and there were no obvious injuries to cause death.

Brian, 42, the owner of an auto parts business, was taken to the Phoenix police station for questioning and interviewed by Detective Joe Petrocino. Judi's death came as a shock to her friends, and to her parents back in North Dakota.

Although Brian Eftenoff was the last person to see Judi, he had an air-tight alibi: a surveillance tape from the casino where he had been gambling that night with a friend. Brian says that Judi was fine when he left her that night. He told police his wife was putting the kids to bed, and acting normally when he said goodbye.

Toxicology tests showed that Judi, 30, had died of a stroke caused by cocaine intoxication. Tamara Coalwell, Judi's best friend, admits Judi started using drugs after she got married. She says that Brian was the one who introduced her to cocaine.

But while the existence of cocaine in Judi's system certainly explained her mysterious death, it still didn't answer all of the medical examiner's questions: How did Judi Eftenoff sustain those minor scrapes and bruises on her face and head?

Judi had met Brian when she was 23. Brian was a handsome, fast-talking charmer. "I was the gas pedal, she was the brakes, we used to always say that. I was the gas pedal, she was the brakes," Brian says.

After she and Brian married and had children, Judi continued to work in sales at Neiman Marcus. None of Judi's family or friends had ever liked Brian, and when they heard she had suddenly died, they suspected that he had something to do with it.

There was a problem with their theory. Despite Judi's cuts and bruises, the county medical examiner wasn't at all convinced she was murdered, that it might have been an accidental overdose, so he listed her death as "undecided." But Detective Joe Petrosino was not only sure Judi had been murdered - he also thought he knew who killed her: Brian.

At first, it was just the injuries that made the detective suspect Brian. But, over time, Petrosino became convinced, in large part because of Brian himself.

When asked whether he ever fought with his wife, he told Detective Petrosino: "Of course. I have total respect for women, but if you're going to act like a guy, you get treated like a guy. You hit me with something, throw something at me, smack me in the face, good chance you're probably going to get smacked back."

Petrosino started to gather stories that Brian had allegedly beaten Judi in the past. He discovered that Rikki Eftenoff, Judi and Brian's daughter, told social workers that she had seen their parents fighting. In a series of interviews with counselors, Rikki, who was five when her mother died, gave disturbing -- but also conflicting -- stories of possible domestic abuse.

But Petrosino still couldn't figure out how Brian could've killed Judi that night, so he was far from being able to charge Brian with murder.

Then Brian told Petrosino that there was only one way his wife could have as much cocaine in her system as she did. "To me, then someone was, you know, like, forcing her to do it or something," Brian told Petrosino. "You know what I'm saying?"

With that, Detective Petrosino came up with his theory of how Brian killed his wife: "I think he beat her up. He hurt her. He knows he hurt her. She's going to call the cops this time. And he needs an alibi, 'cause he doesn't want to go to jail. And if he puts a little cocaine in her, and pours it down her and you know, anybody comes and looks at her, she's going to have to be high on coke."

Eight months after Judi's death, prosecutor Kurt Altman and Detective Petrosino went before a grand jury and Brian Eftenoff was arrested for murder. His two children went to live with Brian's sister.

What happens at the trial? Find out in Part 2.