PHOENIX — The U.S. Supreme Court has rebuffed the efforts of a man who married and then killed a Pinal County woman for her life insurance to escape the death penalty.
In a brief order, the justices rejected arguments by attorneys for Michael Apelt that his counsel at his trial had been deficient and that required a new sentencing.
The high court did not disturb the conclusion of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that the attorney may have botched the job of representing Apelt at sentencing and finding evidence to urge a trial judge to spare his life. But they also left intact the appellate ruling that said even if the attorney had done a better job it would not have made any difference — and Apelt still would have been sentenced to death.
“Nothing in the record indicates that any explanation for why Apelt became a monster would have changed the sentence,” they wrote.
It was that ruling that the Supreme Court left intact on Monday without comment.
Court records show Apelt and his older brother Rudi came to the United States from Germany in 1988.
Over the next few months the brothers met and “conned” a series of women, telling tales of wealth and intrigue. The goal was both to get money and, ultimately, to find a woman to marry Michael Apelt.
That culminated with the October marriage to 30-year-old Cindy Monkman.
Less than a month later they began shopping for $1 million in life insurance policies, ultimately resulting in the purchase of $400,000 worth of coverage after they could not get more.
Then, in December, the brothers hatched a plan to kill Monkman.
Her body was found in the desert near Apache Junction two days after the insurance policies were obtained. She had been stabbed multiple times and nearly beheaded.
The brothers flew to Los Angeles, paying a homeless man to recite a message onto Monkman’s answering machine suggesting he had killed her and was coming after Rudi and Michael next.
Both eventually were found guilty and sentenced to death, though Rudi was declared mentally disabled, making him ineligible for the death penalty.
In reviewing the sentence, a federal judge found various flaws in the defense mounted by Michael Apelt’s original attorney, including failing to find ways of investigating his mental health and background.
That conclusion was affirmed by the 9th Circuit where the appellate judges said that the trial judge was presented a very different picture of Michael Apelt’s background than what might have been seen had the lawyer produced other evidence. But that, the appellate judges concluded, was not enough, saying there was no showing that he would have escaped the death penalty even if other evidence had been presented.
One big issue, the appellate judges said, was that the murder was “premeditated and calculated.”
“The record shows that from the time Apelt entered the United States around Labor Day 1988, he lied to and manipulated others, and borrowed and stole money from women,” the judge said.
They noted he had proposed to three different women in less than a month and got Monkman to secretly marry him in Las Vegas by leading her to believe he was wealthy. And there was the decision to seek life insurance on her a little over a week after the marriage.
“As borne out by subsequent events, Apelt’s unwavering intent was to murder the woman he had convinced to marry him in order to collect on the insurance policy,” the court concluded.