When Penny Cheney went to the hotel room of Jimmy Wayne Jeffers in October 1976, it is safe to assume that her drug-addled brain was preventing her from thinking clearly. Otherwise, she would have remembered that Jeffers had previously tried to kill her and that he was probably even more angry with her since she had ratted him out to police for dealing smack and stealing.
But the lure of a heroin fix from her former boyfriend was too powerful — like the dose he gave her — and it cost her her life.
In an ironic twist of fate that is one of the best examples of letting the punishment fit the crime, Jeffers also died of a drug overdose — this one administered by the State of Arizona in 1995 while he lay strapped to a gurney in the state prison in Florence.
Jeffers was awaiting trial for drug offenses and was incarcerated in the Pima County Jail in August 1976 when he received a copy of a police report revealing that Penny had informed the Pima County Sheriff’s Office that Jeffers was dealing drugs. On the margin of the report, Jeffers wrote “Penny was only one that knew this.” It was at that time that he decided to kill her.
He wrote a kite to another prisoner in the jail, offering “some quick cash” if the prisoner would get rid of Penny and another alleged stool pigeon known as Fat Boy.
Demonstrating his profound ignorance by assuming that notes between prisoners were somehow privileged communications, Jeffers handed the note to a jailer for delivery. The jailer instead read the note and turned it over to his supervisor. The note read in part:
Name your price and it will be paid the day after it is in the papers. I want to do it myself but I am not sure they will set bond. If they do it will take a couple of months. I am in a hurry. I don’t want her to get out of town. An O.D. would be fine. Nice & clean.
Jeffers did manage to get bonded out and in October, he was living at a local motel with a friend named Doris when he made contact with Penny. Acting on instructions from Jeffers to get lost, Doris left the two former lovers alone, sitting at the motel’s pool for more than an hour until it began to rain. She waited in her car for another 30 minutes before returning to the motel room.
Jeffers answered the door armed with a pistol which he pointed at Doris’s head. He ordered her into the room, telling her to sit down and shut up.
Penny was lying unconscious on the bed. Jeffers took out a syringe and injected something into her hand, swearing at the woman who was obviously in the stages of a drug overdose. Seeing Penny foaming at the mouth, Doris, a licensed practical nurse, recognized that Jeffers was deliberately causing Penny to overdose.
“I’ve given her enough to kill a horse and this bitch won’t die,” he told Doris.
Doris checked her pulse and saw that Penny was still alive.
“Are you going to help her?” Doris asked.
“No, I’m going to kill her,” Jeffers replied, unbuckling the unconscious girl’s belt and wrapping around her neck.
“Stop it,” Doris said. “She’ll probably die anyway.”
Jeffers shrugged her off.
“I’ve seen her this way before and she’s come out of it,” he said. Jeffers proceeded to strangle Penny and told Doris to check her vitals again.
Penny was dead.
Jeffers then picked up the gun and directed Doris to inject Penny with more heroin, taking photos of her. He also took photos of Doris choking Penny.
“This will prove you were an accomplice,” he told her.
They then moved Penny’s body to the bathroom and stored the corpse in the bath until burying it in the Sedona desert.
A month later, Sharon Galarza, a friend of Penny and Jeffers was arrested on prostitution and drug charges and called Jeffers to suggest that Penny had also set her up. Jeffers, the criminal genius who did not think his prison letters would be examined, handed police a recorded confessionto Penny’s murder
“Well, nobody has to worry about her anymore,” Jeffers told Galarza in her jail phone call. “She’s gone. I killed her.”
He also warned Galarza not to tell anyone, because he didn’t act alone.
A few days later Jeffers invited Sharon to his hotel room with the promise of heroin. When she arrived, he assaulted her by holding a butcher knife to her throat. At knifepoint, Galarza was forced to inject herself with heroin.
Jeffers was subsequently convicted of receiving stolen property and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Shortly after, he was convicted of federal firearms charges and sentenced to 20 years.
While Jeffers was in prison, Galarza was arrested on drug and prostitution charges, and in return for a nolle prose for her own crimes, told what she knew about Penny’s murder.
Jeffers was convicted of Penny’s murder in 1977, and was executed in 1995.
Demonstrating that he was a real class act until the end, his final words consisted of a string of profanity, and he died with his middle finger extended toward the witnesses.