The Arizona Supreme Court released an opinion Friday reinstating the death penalty for Beau John Greene, who murdered University of Arizona (UOA) music professor Roy Johnson in 1995.
“The conduct Greene engaged in, aside from his motive to murder, remains subject to a sentence of death and his actions in murdering Johnson continue to fall within that narrow category of the most serious crimes. Therefore, the retributive purpose served by his sentence in 1996 is still reflected in and served by Arizona law today,” wrote Justus William Montgomery in the opinion.
According to court documents from 1998, Greene testified to continuously using methamphetamine days before the murder and was experiencing withdrawals. Johnson was last seen at around 9:30 on February 28th, after giving an organ recital. Greene claimed that Johnson approached him in a park and offered to pay him to perform lewd acts, which Greene accepted. However, after getting in Johnson’s car, Greene allegedly decided against the act, but Johnson advanced on him. In response, Greene claimed to strike him in the head multiple times with his fists, after which Johnson went limp.
He then took Johnson’s car and drove the body to a nearby wash ditch, where Johnson was found face down four days later. However, Greene claimed to return to the body subsequently and steal Johnson’s wallet, after which he went on a spending spree.
However, the court found contradictions in Greene’s tale. For example, medical testimony shared that a blunt object, not a human fist, damaged Johnson’s skull. Additionally, only one set of tires and footprints entered and exited the wash, suggesting that Greene immediately took Johnson’s wallet. Johnson’s wife also testified to her disbelief that he would act in an unfaithful way.
Of note, at the time, Greene needed money at the time. He was in trouble with a drug dealer for outstanding debts, and his friends had kicked him out of their trailer earlier that day. A trial court sentenced him to death for murdering for financial gain and the murder being heinous or depraved.
Since then, there have been appeals to remove the sentence. The heinous or depraved charge was dropped, but the pecuniary charge remained until a 2020 appeal. Part of Greene’s sentencing came from Arizona Revised Statute (ARS) § 13-751(F)(5), which was amended in 2019 by the legislature. Previously, the law stated that someone could receive the death penalty if they murdered for financial gain, which the court determined Greene had done. However, the law now does not mention this, and Greene argued that his sentencing was no longer constitutional, leading to his sentence being lowered.
However, Montgomery wrote this all depends on legislative intent. The court stated that a bill must note that it has retrospective power to affect prior sentences. As it was signed into law, Senate Bill (SB) 1314 did not contain a retroactive-application clause, nor was there an effort to create one while the bill moved through the legislature. Therefore, the court found that the sentencing is still constitutional.
Even with the amendment, Montgomery stated that the current laws still allow for the death penalty. ARS § 13-751(F)(2) says that the sentence is warranted if another serious offense, such as robbery, was committed on the same occurrence of the murder, which the court said applies to Greene’s case.
Ultimately, the court found that Greene’s previous sentence was correct, placing him back on death row. There are currently 109 inmates on the list.
However, Greene’s legal challenges are not over yet, as he still has parallel legal action in federal court arguing other aspects of his sentence.
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