Michael and Tina Careccia were killed and buried more than a year ago, their bodies discovered next to a home on Papago Road. Jose Valenzuela has been in jail awaiting trial ever since.
In a court hearing Friday, that trial on two charges of first-degree murder was tentatively set to begin Jan. 23, 2018, at 9 a.m. in Judge Kevin White’s courtroom in Pinal County Superior Court.
Valenzuela, now 39, had to be indicted twice and the state had to twice file notice of its intent to seek the death penalty. Pinal County Public Defender James Mannato successfully had the July 8, 2015, indictment tossed after it was determined information not in evidence had been presented to the Grand Jury.
Valenzuela was re-indicted April 6 this year on two counts of first-degree murder. Mannato has until Aug. 19 to file a new challenge to the most recent Grand Jury proceedings.
Valenzuela was present at Friday’s hearing, seated beside Mannato and wearing a brown Pinal County Sheriff’s Office jail outfit and shackles. Relatives of the Careccias filled a front bench.
Michael and Tina Careccia were last seen alive June 21, 2015, after a Father’s Day party at the home where they resided in the Thunderbird Farms area. Their son reported them missing the next day. The couple’s Honda Accord was found in the area a couple of hours later.
The subsequent investigation found Michael Careccia, 44, had telephoned Valenzuela several times after the party. The last call on his phone was to Valenzuela at 11 p.m. that night, according to court filings.
Between June 23 and July 1, Detectives Shawn Wilson and Andrew Converse interviewed Valenzuela four times. The final time, Valenzuela called Converse and reportedly confessed to shooting both of the Careccias.
The Pinal County Attorney’s Office alleges Valenzuela borrowed a friend’s backhoe to bury the bodies in a red blanket and a blue tarp next to the house he was living in, which belonged to his parents. It was two streets north of the Careccia home.
Valenzuela allegedly told detectives he was “tripped out” on meth at the time and that both of the Careccias were also using meth. A coroner’s report filed last August showed the presence of methamphetamine and amphetamine in the victims’ systems.
The cause of death in both cases was gunshot to the head by a .22 revolver.
In testimony presented to the first Grand Jury, the Pinal County Attorney’s Office tried to prove premeditation and motive by suggesting Valenzuela had been romantically interested in Tina Careccia, 42. Mannato said there was no evidence of that or the state’s version of how the victims were shot, and allowing that to go before the jury denied Valenzuela due process.
Mannato has a pending motion to officially dismiss the first bill of indictment to prevent future confusion.
The next court hearing on that and the state’s motion to strike certain defenses is set for Sept. 30 at 9 a.m.
The trial itself will be in front of a 12-person jury. White has set aside three months for those proceedings. The timing is only tentative because the case is advancing in what the judge called a “fluid situation.”
In the meantime, at the request of Deputy County Attorney Vince Goddard, Judge White ordered Mannato not to have any contact with family members of the Careccias until the state determines who can be classified as next of kin.