SAFFORD — In 1999, attorney P. Donovan Riddle found himself defending a mentally challenged man accused of a brutal murder.
Fourteen years later, Riddle was being interviewed about the case for a reality cable television show.
On Aug, 23, a producer/host and camera-man for the Oxygen network show “Snapped” was in Safford to interview Riddle about the murder of Kurt Imel, a Walmart manager in Tucson.
“My client committed the murder,” Riddle said. “It’s easy to say Danny was challenged in every way.”
In 2000, Daniel Ray Averett pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in exchange for taking the death penalty off the table. Averett was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 25 years and required to testify against the victim’s wife and daughter, who was accused of hiring Averett to commit the murder for $500.
“Snapped” focuses on stories of women accused of committing murder, primarily those convicted of killing their husbands. In this case, Suzanne Teresa Imel and her daughter, Tiffanie Marie Imel, were accused of conspiring to kill Kurt in order to collect on a $1.25 million life insurance policy.
The first trial of the Imel women resulted in a deadlocked jury. At the second trial, Suzanne Imel was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 21 years in prison plus another seven years for pleading guilty to involving a minor in a drug offense, a charge that was plea bargained in exchange for taking off the conspiracy charge and waiving her right to appeal.
Tiffanie Imel was convicted of second-degree murder and conspiracy. The murder charge was overturned on appeal, but the conspiracy charge was upheld. She was sentenced to life in prison on the conspiracy charge.
“This case is an example of the dangers of meth. And it’s a very strange tale,” said Rudy Fischmann.
Fischmann works with Jupiter Entertainment, the production house that produces “Snapped.”
“We look through cases of women accused of murder. We see if there’s more to the story,” Fischmann said.
There’s a great deal more when it comes to Averett, Riddle said. Averett’s struggles started early, when, at 1 week old, he was abandoned by his birth mother in a gas station restroom.
“In 1988 or ‘89, he was involved in an car accident. His sister was ejected and suffered severe brain damage. Danny was severely injured, too, with head injuries. And his (adoptive) mother, with whom he was very close, was killed,” Riddle said.
That combination of brain injury and losing the person with whom he was most close made Averett an easy patsy for the Imel women.
“When anyone showed Danny friendship, he was extremely loyal. And sometimes those people showing Danny friendship did not have the best of intentions,” Riddle said.
“Snapped” is in its 13th season on the Oxygen network.