Under Arizona’s Slayer Statue, A.R.S. § 14-2803, a person (slayer) who feloniously and intentionally kills another person forfeits all rights to inherit from that person’s estate. A criminal conviction establishing the slayer as the decendent’s intentional killer is conclusive proof for purposes of the statue. Absent a criminal conviction, a court must determine whether, under the preponderance of the evidence standard, the slayer would be found criminally accountable for the felonious and intentional killing of the decedent.
The Slayer Statute has recently been in the news due to a wrongful death lawsuit involving a Phoenix woman.
On June 26, 2010 Phyllis Mizioch was shot to death in her Phoenix kitchen hours after her meeting her estranged husband Peter Mizioch and discussing their pending divorce. Mr. Mizioch was listed as the beneficiary on two life insurance policies on his wife worth $4.5 million. Mr. Mizioch denies any part in his wife’s murder, and the case remains open.
However, Mrs. Mizioch’s adult children filed a wrongful death lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging that their stepfather was responsible for her murder and should thereby be barred from receiving any of the life-insurance payouts under the Arizona Slayer Statue.. In support of their theory, the stepchildren provided indirect circumstantial evidence that Mr. Mizioch has been connected to other murder victims with large life insurance policies that named him as a close associate or beneficiary.
The Arizona Republic lists the following suspicious deaths implicating Mr. Mizioch, all of which he denies any involvement:
- Wayne M. “Mike” Snodgrass, Mizioch’s partner in a construction business, who was killed at his Phoenix office in 1989. The value of his life-insurance policy was not listed in public records.
- Ronald J. Bianchi, a Phoenix journalist and entrepreneur who owed more than $2 million to Mizioch, who was found dead in the forest near Payson in 1999.
- David Stark, Bianchi’s partner in loan deals, who was slain in 2005 inside a Detroit residence where property records listed Mizioch as a co-owner.
Bianchi and Stark were insured for $1 million each, according to court records.
Another person, Oran B. Ingram, Mizioch’s partner in a carpet company, was wounded in an ambush at his Phoenix residence in 1979. According to police records, Snodgrass told investigators he believed Mizioch was responsible for the attack to collect on a $200,000 life-insurance policy.
All of the men were shot. All of the cases remain unsolved.
Law-enforcement records show that insurance benefits from the slayings totaled more than $8 million.
In August 2011, U.S. District Court Judge James Tilborg ruled that the pattern of profitable death, without more, was not preponderance of the evidence that Mr. Mizioch had intentionally killed his wife and was a slayer. As such, the stepchildren could not prevent their stepfather from collecting the $4.5 million insurance payout.
However, just as Mr. Mizioch was about to collect the insurance money, a new witness recently emerged alleging that her brother, an insurance agent, admitted to writing a multimillion-dollar life-insurance policy on one of previous murder victims to pay off a gambling debt owed to Mr. Mizioch:
In a sworn statement to the court, Karen Bieleniewicz wrote that she had not previously divulged that information about her brother due to fears for her life but reconsidered after learning that Mizioch was about to be awarded millions of dollars.
“Even though I am concerned for my safety,” she wrote, “I feel I have to come forward with what I know. . . . I felt so strongly about seeing justice done in this matter.”
James Bieleniewicz answered in a court statement: “I have never been involved in such criminal activity and a (sic) categorically deny the allegations made about me.
The payout is currently on hold pending an appeal by the stepchildren to the Ninth Circuit based on the new evidence.