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Jury sentences US woman to life in prison for beating her husband to death with a hammer

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PHOENIX - A jury on Wednesday spared the life of an Arizona woman convicted of beating her husband to death with a hammer, sentencing her to life in prison.

The decision in the trial of Marissa Devault's comes after the jury deliberated for about three days. Devault nodded when jurors were polled about their decision, and she hugged her attorneys before leaving the courtroom smiling.

A judge scheduled a June 6 hearing where he will formally impose the sentence and decide whether she can be eligible for early release after 25 years.

Devault was convicted April 8 of first-degree murder in the 2009 slaying of her husband, Dale Harrell. Prosecutors say Devault killed Harrell in a failed bid to collect on a life insurance policy to repay about $300,000 in loans from her boyfriend. Devault says she killed her husband in self-defence and told investigators he had physically and sexually abused her in the past.

Harrell, 34, suffered multiple skull fractures in the attack at the couple's home in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert. He died nearly a month later at a hospice of complications from his head injuries.

During the sentencing phase of her trial, Devault spoke directly to jurors for 11 minutes. She sobbed and wiped away tears as she said she was sorry for her actions and the pain she has caused Harrell's family.

Shortly after the attack, Devault told investigators Harrell attacked her as she slept and choked her until she was unconscious. She also told police that when she woke up, she saw another man who lived at their home beating Harrell with a hammer.

Devault later confessed to attacking her husband, saying she pummeled him in a rage as he slept after he sexually assaulted her.

The case had many salacious elements, including testimony about plots to hire a hit man and the fact that Devault was a former stripper who met her boyfriend on a sugar-daddy dating website.

The key prosecution witness was Devault's former boyfriend, Allen Flores, a businessman who loaned Devault $300,000 during their two-year relationship.

Flores testified that Devault wanted to either hire someone to kill Harrell, or kill him herself and tell police he tried to rape her after a night of drinking.

Devault's attorneys attacked Flores' credibility, noting he was given an immunity agreement on child-pornography allegations in exchange for his testimony. The child pornography was found on Flores' computer during a search that was part of the murder investigation, authorities said.

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