A professional gambler was sentenced to life in prison Thursday for bludgeoning his wife to death with a hammer in order to collect on her life insurance policies.
Earlier Thursday, jurors had found Mark Andrews Phelps guilty of killing his wife, Doris Andrews, on the morning on Jan. 8, 2016, as she slept in their home in Azle.
Jurors had deliberated for 2 1/2 hours Wednesday afternoon before state District Judge Elizabeth Beach sent them home for the night. They resumed deliberations Thursday morning and took less than an hour to reach a guilty verdict. Agreeing on a life sentence took even less time.
Prosecutors contend Mark Andrews was a controlling and abusive husband, a gambler who had blown through a more than $200,000 jackpot he'd won in June 2015 and was in dire financial straits at the time of his wife's murder some six months later.
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“They were destitute,” prosecutor Kevin Boneberg told jurors in closing arguments on Wednesday. “Desperate times calls for desperate measures, and the hammer comes out."
Prosecutors allege Mark Andrews attacked his wife as she slept, delivering seven blows with the claw-end of the hammer to her head and neck and rendering her unable to scream out for help. They say he then opened the couple's safe and tampered with the crime scene to make it appear as if a burglar was responsible before waking another couple in the home, reporting he'd found his wife dead..
They point to two life insurances policies that Doris Andrews had, totaling more than $373,000, in which Mark Andrews was the primary beneficiary.
Boneberg told jurors that to Mark Andrews, the trial was just another betting table and the courtroom a casino.
“He stands to gain so much money from playing this, from betting that the house is going to lose this time,” Boneberg said..
Defense attorney Walt Cleveland argued that prosecutors crucified Mark Andrews’ character — but did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt by the evidence that Mark Andrews killed his wife.
He said from the beginning, police and prosecutors built their case off the assumption that Mark Andrews killed his wife and ignored anything that went contrary to that.
“He’s not a murderer except by a subjective, improper, insufficient investigation that painted a false picture,” Cleveland told jurors.
He said police could never adequately answer how they ruled out another couple that had been living at the Andrews' house, nor explain what they did to prove that Mark Andrews was the killer.
“I still don’t know who killed Doris Andrews,” Cleveland said.
Mark Andrews did not testify during the trial but had previously told police that he had left his home about 2:15 a.m. on Jan. 8, 2016, to drive to the WinStar casino in Oklahoma.
He told police he later turned around after realizing he'd left his money at home.
Azle Cpl. Richard Lukowsky testified Wednesday as a rebuttal witness for the state. He told jurors that the drive where Mark Andrews said he turned around from only should have only taken 25 to 30 minutes. But Mark Andrews didn't send an text message to his wife until 3:54 a.m., saying he was turning around because he'd forgotten his money.
Surveillance video showed Andrews at a gas station about five minutes from his house around 4:17 a.m. Prosecutors contend Andrews went there, sure to be seen on video, to further set up his alibi. They say he then returned home and soon woke up the couple living with them, telling them to call 911 and thus creating his own witnesses.
But the prosecutors argue the blood from his wife that was found on the back of Mark Andrews' shirt — at the neck and behind the shoulder — are evidence that he dealt the fatal blows.
Cleveland said Mark Andrews may have just been mistaken about what time he left the house that morning when interviewed in the hours after finding his wife dead.
He argued there are too many unknowns in how police and prosecutors theorize the murder happened and that none of the evidence puts the hammer in Mark Andrews' hands.
"All those variables we don't know add up to reasonable doubt in this case," he told jurors.
Investment broker claims
Earlier in the day, jurors also heard from another state rebuttal witness who had loaned Mark Andrews' money in the months and even days before Doris Andrews' murder.
Rhenda Pence testified that she and her husband, Jerry, had met the Andrews while attending the same church in Kingman, Arizona.
She said the two couples grew very close. She said after Mark Andrews helped her husband get a job at a Texas trucking company, both families then relocated to Azle.
Pence said Mark Andrews had told her about many jobs he’d held in his past, including being in the Special Forces in the military, a veterinarian, running his parent’s cattle ranch, an owner of a trucking company and manager of an RV dealership.
“Did he ever tell you about performing a tracheotomy on someone?" Boneberg asked.
"Yes, he did. That’s part of the military stuff," Pence answered.
Prosecutors contend Mark Andrews was a conman, who told lies to exert control and power and obtain money.
Pence said while she didn't buy some of Mark Andrews' claims, she did believe him when he told her that he was an investment broker and could help her get up to a 20 percent return if she gave him money to invest. She said she ultimately gave him $9,600 — money from her savings — that she never saw again.
Pence testified she never knew until later that Mark Andrews was gambling with her money.
"It sounds like you fell for this hook, line and sinker," Boneberg said.
"I'm not proud of it,” she replied.