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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Murder for hire - Inheritance and life insurance
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: October 25, 1996
Date of arrest: November 21, 1996
Date of birth: February 4, 1962
Victim profile: Mary Lynne Carlson (her elderly mother-in-law)
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Maricopa County, Arizona, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on March 31, 2000. Sentence reduced to natural life without the possibility of parole on June 27, 2002

The Supreme Court of the State of Arizona

State of Arizona v. Doris Carlson


Date of Birth: 02-04-62
Defendant: Caucasian
Victim: Caucasian

On the night of October 24/25, 1996, Doris Carlson drove John McReaken and Scott Smith, roomers in her house, to the nursing home where Doris Carlson's elderly mother-in-law, Lynne Carlson, resided. Smith served as lookout while McReaken entered the building. McReaken repeatedly stabbed Lynne in a bungled attempt to kill her. Lynne suffered greatly, but did not succumb to her fatal injuries for some 6 months.

Doris Carlson had planned the killing with the approval of her husband, Lynne's son David. Doris and David Carlson were in financial straits, and knew that David Carlson would receive his inheritance and life insurance proceeds when Lynne died.

Doris Carlson promised McReaken and Smith $20,000 from the inheritance/insurance proceeds in exchange for murdering Lynne Carlson.


Presiding Judge: Peter T. D'Angelo
Prosecutor: Cleve Lynch
Defense:  Carmen L. Fischer
Phillip G. Noland
Start of Trial: July 15, 1999
Verdict: July 27, 1999 
Sentencing: March 31, 2000

Aggravating Circumstances:

Procured murder by promise of pecuniary gain Pecuniary gain
Especially heinous/cruel/depraved

Mitigating Circumstances:

No prior criminal history (non-statutory)
Brain damage (non-statutory).

CARLSON, Doris Ann: Per Arizona Supreme Court CR1996-012554 dated 06-27-02, conviction affirmed and sentence reduced from DEATH to NATURAL LIFE without the possibility of parole.



STATE OF ARIZONA, Appellee, v. DORIS CARLSON, Appellant.

No. CR-00-0161-AP


FELDMAN, Justice

¶1 On July 27, 1999, a jury found Doris Ann Carlson (Defendant) guilty of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and first-degree burglary. She was sentenced to death on the murder charge, life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for twenty-five years on the conspiracy count, and an aggravated term of twenty-one years for the burglary. All sentences were concurrent. Because the trial judge sentenced Defendant to death for the murder, direct appeal to this court is automatic. A.R.S. § 13-703.01. We have jurisdiction pursuant to Arizona Constitution article VI, § 5(3), A.R.S. § 13-4031, and Rule 31.2(b), Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure.


¶2 In 1996, Defendant and her husband, codefendant David Carlson (David), were livingin a house in Peoria, Arizona, that they shared with David’s mother, the victim in this case, Mary Lynne Carlson (Lynne). Defendant and David were financially dependent on Lynne. Lynne received about $850 each month from a trust fund valued at several hundred thousand dollars. In addition, she had two annuities, with a combined value of approximately $140,000. Lynne received roughly $800 per month from the first annuity and was allowed to draw on the principal from the second. David, as Lynne’s only child, was the beneficiary of the trust and both annuities.

¶3 When Defendant and David moved from Illinois to Arizona several years earlier, Lynne with drew $70,000 fromher second annuity and bought the Peoria house to accommodate all of them. Defendant and David depended on Lynne’s trust and annuities to pay their living expenses. Lynne had multiple sclerosis, was confined to a wheelchair, and had trouble controlling her bodily functions. Defendant was very impatient with Lynne, claimed she was only pretending to have multiple sclerosis, and yelled and cursed at her. Several times a week, Defendant would suggest that Lynne should be killed so that she and David could get Lynne’s money.

¶4 Because Lynne needed more care than David and Defendant could give her at home, she moved into a residential care facility in July 1996. The trust then stopped paying the utility bills and had them redirected to the home address. Lynne’s trust fund and annuity checks also stopped coming to the house, leaving Defendant and David broke.

¶5 In late September or early October 1996, Defendant approached their twenty-year-old boarder, John Daniel McReaken (Dan), and asked him if he knew anybody who wanted to make $20,000 by killing Lynne. Dan accepted Defendant’s offer. Another boarder, seventeen-year-old Scott Smith (Scott), offered to help Dan, and Dan agreed to give Scott half of the $20,000.

¶6 Defendant gave Dan money to buy gloves to use when killing Lynne. Dan and Scott already had the weapons, each having his own butterfly knife. Several days later, Defendant drove Dan and Scott to Lynne’s residential care facility because she wanted them to locate Lynne’s apartment and familiarize themselves with the area around it together with the different ways into and out of the facility.

¶7 On October 23, 1996, Defendant and David went to see Lynne and asked her to sign annuity documents in order to get money to help pay the mortgage so they would not lose the house. Lynne refused to sign without first consulting her financial advisor, which made Defendant angry. The next evening, October 24, Defendant told Dan that Lynne needed to be killed really soon, and Dan relayed the message to Scott. When Scott got home from work that evening, he and Dan dressed in black and got their gloves and knives. Defendant gave them a key to Lynne’s apartment and offered to drive them there.

¶8 Sometime after 1:00 a.m. on October 25, Defendant drove Dan and Scott to a supermarket near Lynne’s care facility and told them she would wait for them there. Once in Lynne’s apartment, Scott stayed in the living room, where he disconnected the television and moved the items from it stop to make it appear there had been a burglary. Dan, meanwhile, went into the bedroom, and after hesitating, closed his eyes and stabbed Lynne eight to ten times. Dan later told Scott that he had stabbed Lynne in her throat and upper body and that she should die. When they returned to the car, Defendant asked whether they had done it, and Scott replied that they had. Defendant then drove them back to the house.

¶9 About 5:00 that same morning, a nursing assistant went to Lynne’s apartment to make her regular check. As she was unlocking the door, Lynne called out the assistant’s name and yelled at her for help, telling her she had fought “them” off as hard as she could. Lynne underwent several operations, but she never recovered from the knife attack and died on April 21, 1997.

¶10 Defendant, David, Dan, and Scott were arrested on November 21, 1996, less than amonth after the attack. Following Lynne’s death, they were charged with her murder. Based on the foregoing evidence, a jury found Defendant guilty of first-degree murder. As required by statute,the trial judge conducted a special sentencing hearing. A.R.S. § 13-703(B). Under the Arizona system, this hearing is conducted without a jury — the judge makes the factual findings that determine whether a defendant is to be sentenced to life imprisonment or death.

In Defendant’s aggravation/mitigation hearing, the judge determined that the state had proven three aggravating factors beyond a reasonable doubt: Defendant procured Lynne’s murder by promise of payment of something of pecuniary value,namely $20,000, A.R.S. § 13-703(F)(4); Lynne’s murder was committed in expectation of Defendant’s pecuniary gain, A.R.S. § 13-703(F)(5); and Lynne’s murder was committed in an especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner, A.R.S. § 13-703(F)(6). The judge found one statutory mitigating circumstance, duress, A.R.S. § 13-703(G)(2); and two non-statutory mitigating circumstances — no prior criminal history and brain damage. The judge then determined that the mitigating evidence, when weighed against the aggravating evidence, was insufficient to call for leniency and sentenced Defendant to death.



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