On the night of October 24/25,
1996, Doris Carlson drove John McReaken and Scott Smith, roomers in
her house, to the nursing home where Doris Carlson's elderly
mother-in-law, Lynne Carlson, resided. Smith served as lookout while
McReaken entered the building. McReaken repeatedly stabbed Lynne in a
bungled attempt to kill her. Lynne suffered greatly, but did not
succumb to her fatal injuries for some 6 months.
Doris Carlson had planned the
killing with the approval of her husband, Lynne's son David. Doris and
David Carlson were in financial straits, and knew that David Carlson
would receive his inheritance and life insurance proceeds when Lynne
Doris Carlson promised
McReaken and Smith $20,000 from the inheritance/insurance proceeds in
exchange for murdering Lynne Carlson.
Presiding Judge: Peter T. D'Angelo
Prosecutor: Cleve Lynch
Defense: Carmen L. Fischer
Phillip G. Noland
Start of Trial: July 15, 1999
Verdict: July 27, 1999
Sentencing: March 31, 2000
Procured murder by promise of pecuniary gain Pecuniary gain
No prior criminal history (non-statutory)
Brain damage (non-statutory).
CARLSON, Doris Ann: Per Arizona Supreme Court
CR1996-012554 dated 06-27-02, conviction affirmed and sentence
reduced from DEATH to NATURAL LIFE without the possibility of
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF ARIZONA
STATE OF ARIZONA, Appellee, v. DORIS CARLSON,
CONVICTIONS AFFIRMED, SENTENCE REDUCED
¶1 On July 27, 1999, a jury found Doris Ann Carlson
(Defendant) guilty of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit
first-degree murder, and first-degree burglary. She was sentenced to
death on the murder charge, life imprisonment without the possibility
of parole for twenty-five years on the conspiracy count, and an
aggravated term of twenty-one years for the burglary. All sentences
were concurrent. Because the trial judge sentenced Defendant to death
for the murder, direct appeal to this court is automatic. A.R.S. §
13-703.01. We have jurisdiction pursuant to Arizona Constitution
article VI, § 5(3), A.R.S. § 13-4031, and Rule 31.2(b), Arizona Rules
of Criminal Procedure.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
¶2 In 1996, Defendant and her husband, codefendant
David Carlson (David), were livingin a house in Peoria, Arizona, that
they shared with David’s mother, the victim in this case, Mary Lynne
Carlson (Lynne). Defendant and David were financially dependent on
Lynne. Lynne received about $850 each month from a trust fund valued
at several hundred thousand dollars. In addition, she had two
annuities, with a combined value of approximately $140,000. Lynne
received roughly $800 per month from the first annuity and was allowed
to draw on the principal from the second. David, as Lynne’s only
child, was the beneficiary of the trust and both annuities.
¶3 When Defendant and David moved from Illinois to
Arizona several years earlier, Lynne with drew $70,000 fromher second
annuity and bought the Peoria house to accommodate all of them.
Defendant and David depended on Lynne’s trust and annuities to pay
their living expenses. Lynne had multiple sclerosis, was confined to a
wheelchair, and had trouble controlling her bodily functions.
Defendant was very impatient with Lynne, claimed she was only
pretending to have multiple sclerosis, and yelled and cursed at her.
Several times a week, Defendant would suggest that Lynne should be
killed so that she and David could get Lynne’s money.
¶4 Because Lynne needed more care than David and
Defendant could give her at home, she moved into a residential care
facility in July 1996. The trust then stopped paying the utility bills
and had them redirected to the home address. Lynne’s trust fund and
annuity checks also stopped coming to the house, leaving Defendant and
¶5 In late September or early October 1996,
Defendant approached their twenty-year-old boarder, John Daniel
McReaken (Dan), and asked him if he knew anybody who wanted to make
$20,000 by killing Lynne. Dan accepted Defendant’s offer. Another
boarder, seventeen-year-old Scott Smith (Scott), offered to help Dan,
and Dan agreed to give Scott half of the $20,000.
¶6 Defendant gave Dan money to buy gloves to use
when killing Lynne. Dan and Scott already had the weapons, each having
his own butterfly knife. Several days later, Defendant drove Dan and
Scott to Lynne’s residential care facility because she wanted them to
locate Lynne’s apartment and familiarize themselves with the area
around it together with the different ways into and out of the
¶7 On October 23, 1996, Defendant and David went to
see Lynne and asked her to sign annuity documents in order to get
money to help pay the mortgage so they would not lose the house. Lynne
refused to sign without first consulting her financial advisor, which
made Defendant angry. The next evening, October 24, Defendant told Dan
that Lynne needed to be killed really soon, and Dan relayed the
message to Scott. When Scott got home from work that evening, he and
Dan dressed in black and got their gloves and knives. Defendant gave
them a key to Lynne’s apartment and offered to drive them there.
¶8 Sometime after 1:00 a.m. on October 25,
Defendant drove Dan and Scott to a supermarket near Lynne’s care
facility and told them she would wait for them there. Once in Lynne’s
apartment, Scott stayed in the living room, where he disconnected the
television and moved the items from it stop to make it appear there
had been a burglary. Dan, meanwhile, went into the bedroom, and after
hesitating, closed his eyes and stabbed Lynne eight to ten times. Dan
later told Scott that he had stabbed Lynne in her throat and upper
body and that she should die. When they returned to the car, Defendant
asked whether they had done it, and Scott replied that they had.
Defendant then drove them back to the house.
¶9 About 5:00 that same morning, a nursing
assistant went to Lynne’s apartment to make her regular check. As she
was unlocking the door, Lynne called out the assistant’s name and
yelled at her for help, telling her she had fought “them” off as hard
as she could. Lynne underwent several operations, but she never
recovered from the knife attack and died on April 21, 1997.
¶10 Defendant, David, Dan, and Scott were arrested
on November 21, 1996, less than amonth after the attack. Following
Lynne’s death, they were charged with her murder. Based on the
foregoing evidence, a jury found Defendant guilty of first-degree
murder. As required by statute,the trial judge conducted a special
sentencing hearing. A.R.S. § 13-703(B). Under the Arizona system, this
hearing is conducted without a jury — the judge makes the factual
findings that determine whether a defendant is to be sentenced to life
imprisonment or death.
In Defendant’s aggravation/mitigation hearing, the
judge determined that the state had proven three aggravating factors
beyond a reasonable doubt: Defendant procured Lynne’s murder by
promise of payment of something of pecuniary value,namely $20,000,
A.R.S. § 13-703(F)(4); Lynne’s murder was committed in expectation of
Defendant’s pecuniary gain, A.R.S. § 13-703(F)(5); and Lynne’s murder
was committed in an especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner,
A.R.S. § 13-703(F)(6). The judge found one statutory mitigating
circumstance, duress, A.R.S. § 13-703(G)(2); and two non-statutory
mitigating circumstances — no prior criminal history and brain damage.
The judge then determined that the mitigating evidence, when weighed
against the aggravating evidence, was insufficient to call for
leniency and sentenced Defendant to death.