A jury sentenced a Mesa man to death Wednesday for drowning his ex-girlfriend’s toddler. The jury announced Derek Chappell’s punishment after about three days of deliberations, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas said.
The jury convicted Chappell in August of choking 2-year-old Devon Shackleford in 2003 and then murdering him in the pool on March 11, 2004.
On the day Devon died, Chappell, now 25, took the child from Krystal Shackleford’s apartment to a nearby swimming pool where he held him under water until he drowned.
“After drowning the young child, he ran back to his residence, took a shower and went to bed,” said Mesa detective Tim Gaffney after Chappell’s arrest.
During the trial, prosecutors said the murder was a result of jealousy. “This case is about a love triangle,” said prosecutor Patricia Stevens.
Chappell began dating the child’s mother in September 2003, and they moved in together that December. Shackleford said she met Chappell in an English class at Mesa Community College.
“He was a nice guy, really sweet, really genuine,” she said in 2004.
But the couple broke up, Shackleford said, after the first time Chappell tried to hurt her son.
“I have never believed in the death penalty until it was my son,” she said after Devon’s death.
During the sentencing phase of the trial, Chappell’s childhood friend, Matt Anderson, recalled playing roughly with Chappell in Chappell’s pool and later when they were on Dobson High School’s soccer team.
He referred to Chappell as “aggressive” and “competitive,” but stopped short of calling him “violent.”
A neighbor of Chappell’s parents, Pamela Sandborn, recalled Chappell pacing in front of his parents’ home and talking angrily into a cell phone almost every day in February 2004.
“Today’s verdict will not bring Devon back,” Thomas said Wednesday. “But it will send a message that our society is prepared to seek the ultimate penalty in order to protect innocent life.”