A jury's strange decision may let a murderer back on the streets in a decade

Dawn Wear is going to prison; of that much, we're sure. What is left to decide is for how long, and that is a point of great contention.

It's been one year, almost to the day, since Wear walked into her husband's place of business on Nogales Highway and fired a shotgun into the back of Annette Lucas, killing the 36-year-old married mother of two. Dawn Wear was convinced that her husband of 20 years, Ron, was having an affair with Lucas and, well, she certainly took care of that, didn't she? After fatally wounding Lucas, Dawn Wear calmly walked out of the office, still holding the gun, and answered her husband's frantic questions of "Why?! Why?!" with "You know why."

It should be noted that Ron Wear has never admitted to having an affair with Lucas, and no evidence was presented at the trial to back up that allegation.

All we have on that point are Dawn Wear's suspicions and hearsay accounts of conversations she may or may not have had with her husband the weekend before the murder. This didn't stop local media outlets from running with the prurient angle. An Arizona Daily Star article printed during the trial in January of this year began, "The day after she learned that her husband of 20 years was having an affair with a co-worker ..."

Certainly, the possibility exists that Ron Wear and Annette Lucas were treading outside the bounds of their respective marriages. It could have been anywhere from flirting to fondling to fornicating. Or it could have been nothing at all, simply the idle thoughts of small-minded people who have little better to do than imagine the worst in others. Whatever the case, last I checked (in this particular desert region of the world, anyway), adultery isn't punishable by death.

According to the convicted murderer's testimony, she and her husband had been on a dune-buggy getaway in Yuma the weekend before the killing, when he allegedly told her about his relationship with Lucas. Then she and her husband had sex a couple of times (which certainly would have been my reaction to such news), and then they returned home. He was called into work the next morning, leaving her alone in the house.

Now, if we are to believe her account (and, give her credit, because a majority of the jury obviously did):

· She looked around the house for some rope with which to hang herself, but found a shotgun in a closet instead.

· Thought about killing herself at home, but decided on Madera Canyon instead. She got in her car with the loaded shotgun and eight or nine extra shells. What, in case she sorta missed? It would be a bitch to reload under those circumstances.

· Drove to Desert Valley Landscaping, where both her husband and Lucas worked, thinking that it would be cool to blow her brains out in front of one or both of them.

· Walked into the office where the victim worked and shot Lucas in the back. The shot came from so close to Lucas' back that virtually nothing else in the office was hit by the blast--not the phone, not the computer, not pictures on the wall.

· Almost a year later, she tells a jury that it was all an accident, a suicide attempt gone awry, and would swear under oath that she didn't even see the victim sitting there when she pulled the trigger.

What's not to believe?

The jury deliberated less than three hours and came back with a guilty verdict. However, it was inexplicably for second-degree murder, which carries with it a sentence of anywhere from 10 to 22 years, depending on the discretion of the judge (the Honorable John Leonardo, in this particular case).

While it's a myth that women never use guns for suicide, they do so at a rate roughly one-fifth that of men. And for those who do go that route, the weapon of choice is, in almost all cases, a small-caliber handgun. That 4-foot-9 Dawn Wear would use a 30-inch shotgun to commit suicide is, at best, a long shot. (Pun unavoidable.)

The law being what it is--an ass--the jury was allowed to freelance, despite the fact that her story had more holes in it than Harry Whittington's face. It's bizarre that someone could attempt to rob a convenience store with a screwdriver, and if a customer happens to have a heart attack during the robbery, the thief could get life in prison. But if someone walks into a place of business with a loaded shotgun and kills a woman with whom she is furious, the murderer could be back on the street in a decade.

There is speculation that some or all of the women on the jury somehow sympathized with Wear's situation. For that matter, maybe some of the jury's men were glad she didn't shoot her husband. Whatever the case, the jury fumbled the ball.

Here's hoping that Judge Leonardo, who has a football background, picks it up and throws it the maximum distance.

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