A witness statement from the night Tina and Michael Careccia died paints a gruesome picture of the Maricopa couple’s last moments on June 21.
Their friend and neighbor Jose Valenzuela, 38, now faces two first-degree murder charges. In a news conference in Florence Thursday, Sheriff Paul Babeu laid out the “probable cause” his office used in the charges.
Felix Rios Nunez, 38, lived at the Valenzuela house at 50669 W. Papago Road. His statement to Pinal County Sheriff’s detectives varies a bit from Valenzuela’s statements, but both were in the house at the time of the killings.
He said Michael was shot first. Tina was then held down and shot.
Nunez told detectives he was asleep in bed when he was awoken by the sound of a gunshot. Leaving his bedroom, he saw Michael struggling to get off the floor and saw Valenzuela standing over Tina, “who was lying on the floor pleading with Jose, telling him to calm down,” according to the report.
Nunez said Valenzuela was holding her down with one hand and holding the gun with the other. Nunez said he told Valenzuela to give him the gun, but Valenzuela pushed him away and told him to leave, which he did.
Babeu said the space in time between the first and the second shooting gave probable cause for first-degree murder charges.
“We believe the incident of the murder and the fight happened the night before [they were reported missing],” Babeu said. “There’s references to Tina being in her pajamas and so forth. There is an assumption that they just left for work the next day.”
The Careccias lived on a lot owned by Michael’s sister and brother-in-law on Mayer Boulevard two streets south of Papago with several other family members. None of the family recalled seeing Michael or Tina after 9 p.m. June 21.
Because they were expected to leave early in the morning June 22, their absence was not noted until later that day. Tina was supposed to run an errand in Mesa for her employer and also had a medical appointment. She did not show up for either, and her purse was still at the house.
In his statements to detectives, Valenzuela reportedly confessed to shooting the Careccias with a .22 Magnum revolver. He told detectives he had been at the Careccia home for a Father’s Day gathering that Sunday and had given Michael Careccia methamphetamine.
He said Michael and Tina came to his house later that night for more meth. He also claimed he, Nunez, Michael and Tina were all using meth and that Nunez briefly left with the Careccias in their car to get more meth and then returned.
According to the report, Valenzuela and Michael got into an argument that led to a fight. Valenzuela said he retrieved his revolver and shot the couple.
Valenzuela said it was Nunez who drove the Careccias’ 2008 Honda Accord away from the scene to a location near the corner of Papago and Ralston roads.
According to the report, Valenzuela buried the Careccias in a six-foot hole next to the house using a backhoe.
Michael Careccia’s 17-year-old son Luke called 911 to report his father missing on Monday evening. The Honda was found a few hours later covered in dust with traces of blood inside. According to PCSO, the blood was Michael’s.
PCSO personnel and a legion of volunteers began a massive search of the Hidden Valley area looking for the couple or at least their belongings. It was 10 of the hottest days of the year, and searchers were out on foot, in vehicles, on horseback and even in paragliders looking for any clues.
Tuesday, PCSO indicated they believed foul play was involved.
Wednesday, officers took Valenzuela into custody as a person of interest. Shortly after a 3 p.m. family news conference, at which Michael’s brother-in-law Geoff Dugan identified Valenzuela as the person being questioned and said he was a friend of Michael, PCSO closed down a section of Papago Road to serve search warrants at the Valenzuela home.
They quickly began digging in the yard and found the two bodies near the house.
“A full autopsy will be performed to determine the cause and manner of death,” Babeu said “Then we’ll be able to find out some additional information that will help clarify if there’s conflicting information both by statements by the suspect, by the witnesses, and how that matches up to physical evidence and forensics.”
According to the report, the bodies of Tina and Michael were identified through tattoos described by the family. The .22 revolver was recovered at the Valenzuela home. Toxicology tests are being run on the bodies.