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Jose Valenzuela

Jose Valenzuela is accused of the June 2015 murders of Tina and Michael Careccia. PCSO photo

The trial date for a Maricopa double-murder case, which has been hanging in limbo for more than three years was set Monday.

The trial for Jose Ignacio Valenzuela, 40, the alleged killer of Michael and Tina Carreccia, is set to begin April 24, 2019.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

The case, which was initially filed in 2015, has seen numerous delays as a result of changes to both defense and prosecution teams.

Recently, lead defense attorney James Mannato, who had been working the case since its initial filing, decided to retire.

A new defense attorney, Bobbi Faldutto, was brought in to replace Mannato.

Falduto immediately requested more time to get familiar with the case, asking for a trial date no sooner than September 2019.

Special prosecutor Gary Husk, who himself was brought in the fold late,  contested the defense’s request, calling it “completely unreasonable.”

Husk, a prosecutor from Navajo County, was assigned to the case after attorney Kent Volkmer was elected as the Pinal County attorney in 2016 and was forced to recuse himself due to previous ties to the case.

Presiding Judge Kevin White is also set to begin a new judicial assignment toward the end of the year. However, he said, given he had been involved in the case for so long it is likely he will see the case through trial.

At Monday’s hearing, Falduto suggested the defense would need six to eight weeks to make arguments. Husk, on the other hand, believes the prosecution can make its case in as few as four weeks.

Valenzuela, who was not present for the hearing, stands accused of shooting and then burying the Carrecias next to his home in Thunderbird Farms the night of June 21, 2015, Father’s Day.

A status hearing for the trial was set for Sept. 17 at 1:30 p.m. at the Pinal County Court House in Florence.

Jose Valenzuela is accused of the June 2015 murders of Tina and Michael Careccia. PCSO photo

The lead public defender in a high-profile Maricopa double-murder case has retired, possibly postponing the already belated trial for as long as another year and a half. 

James Mannato, former lead attorney for Jose Valenzuela, announced in court Wednesday he has officially retired from the public defender’s office and is seeking a replacement who could need considerable time to familiarize themselves with the case. 

Mannato filed a request Jan. 18 for a specific attorney, Bobbi Falduto, to replace him in the case. Given the complexities of taking over a capital case, Falduto said, the soonest she could imagine a trial to start would be “a year or year and a half.”

Falduto came highly recommended by the Public Defender’s Office in Maricopa County, having served the office from 2000 to 2017, Mannato said. 

Additionally, “she has the qualifications and temperament to do this kind of job.”

During her tenure with Maricopa County, Falduto was part of the defense team in a landmark Arizona case known as Chronis v. Steinle. The decision reached in the case established what is known as the Chronis Rule, which guarantees the right of a defendant in a capital murder case to “request a determination of probable cause as to alleged aggravating circumstances.”

Falduto’s appointment, though summarily approved by Judge Kevin White, is not yet official, thus she declined to comment on the case.

Special prosecutor Gary Husk, also brought into the case after proceedings had begun, said a year and a half would be “abnormal.”

“I was very much in the same situation when the conflict occurred,” Husk said. “And, it took me about six months to get ready.”

The conflict Husk refers to occurred in 2016 when Kent Volkmer was elected Pinal County Attorney. At the time of his election, Volkmer was attached to the case as a special guardian, thus creating a conflict of interest for PCAO. 

Additionally, Husk said, “the victims’ families are very concerned about a one-and-a-half year delay on top of what’s already occurred.” 

If the trial date is pushed back another year and a half, that would mean nearly four years had lapsed between the time of the alleged murders and the trail start date. 

Increasing the likelihood of any extensive postponement, Judge White is leaving his criminal assignment in March.

This means another judge would be stepping in and likely needing time to familiarize themselves with the case before trial began. 

Valenzuela stands accused of murdering husband and wife Michael and Tina Careccia in June 2015 and then burying their bodies next to his home in Thunderbird Farms, an unincorporated community just south of Maricopa. 

He faces two counts first-degree murder, both punishable by death. 

Case Timeline


Jose Valenzuela was in Superior Court Monday for a pretrial hearing on murder charges in the deaths of Michael and Tina Careccia.

The trial for one of Maricopa’s most high-profile murder cases is on track, according to lawyers on both sides.

The trial date for accused double-murderer Jose Ignacio Valenzuela is set for Jan. 23 and is on schedule. Valenzuela is charged with the two counts of first-degree murder for the shooting deaths of Tina and Michael Careccia.

Prosecutor Gary Husk and defense attorney James Mannato appeared along with Valenzuela in a Pinal County court room Monday as part of a status hearing. Both sides agreed they were on course to make the January court date.

The next status hearing is scheduled for Nov. 6 at 2:30 p.m. in Judge Kevin White’s courtroom at Pinal County Superior Court in Florence. Because of the notoriety of the case, it has become the trial around which all other upcoming murder trials are scheduled.

On the evening of June 21, 2015, both victims were shot in the head with a .22 caliber pistol, the bodies buried next to the Valenzuela house and discovered two weeks later.

Jose Valenzuela is accused of the June 2015 murders of Tina and Michael Careccia. PCSO photo

At a procedural hearing Monday, an attorney for a local man being tried for a double murder was accused by the county’s prosecutor of violating ethical standards for comments he made to the media regarding the case.

Public Defender James Mannato, legal counsel for Jose Valenzuela, appeared in a Pinal County courtroom with his client July 17 for a status review hearing when the allegations of unethical conduct were lodged by special prosecutor Gary Husk.

Husk alleged statements made to a Pinal County newspaper regarding certain “sealed” subpoenas exceeded the ethical boundaries of legal counsel. The statements made to the newspaper, Husk believes, could have an impact on the objectivity of the public and potential jurors.

“We can try this matter in the press, or we can try this matter in the courtroom,” Husk said while addressing the court on Monday.

Mannato responded to the allegations of ethical violations by drawing attention to the fact then-Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu made public remarks about Valenzuela’s guilt at the time of his arrest. This, Mannato said, did much more to prejudice public opinion of his client than any of his statements to the newspaper.

“I have been trying to find ways to counteract that [Babeu’s statements] ever since,” Mannato said.

Mannato stated he is within the boundaries of section 3.6(b) of the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which states legal counsel will not make any statements to media if the statements “have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter.”

Specifically, Mannato invoked subsection (b)(2) of that rule, which states information that is part of the public record can be discussed with media.

Husk, undeterred by the explanation, expressed his intent to file a motion to have the subpoenas unsealed.

In an exchange between the two lawyers outside the courtroom Mannato said he never asked for the subpoenas to be sealed and anything discussed with the reporter was available in the case file.

Nonetheless, Husk claimed to have never seen the subpoenas, which were in regard to phone records of one of the victims, Michael Careccia.

Though unwilling to make a public comment about the allegations of unethical conduct, Mannato did state his intent to possibly file a motion to have the death penalty taken off the table.

Citing a pending case with the Arizona Supreme Court that aims to establish a uniform application of the death penalty in all Arizona counties, Mannato plans to follow the line of argument that capital punishment is unequally applied across counties and thus unconstitutional in its current form.

“You have a situation where you could commit the same exact crime in the same circumstance in one county and find yourself looking at the death penalty,” Mannato said “But, if you do it in the poorer county you won’t because they don’t have the funds to fund the prosecution of capital cases, because it’s very expensive.”

The next status review hearing was set for Aug 28 at 3 p.m. in Judge Kevin White’s courtroom in Superior Court in Florence.

A tentative trial date has been set for Jan. 23, 2018, at 9 a.m. at the same location.

Jose Valenzuela is accused of the June 2015 murders of Tina and Michael Careccia. PCSO photo

Gary Husk made his first appearance in Pinal Superior Court Thursday as special prosecutor in the state’s murder case against Jose Valenzuela of Maricopa.

Assigned by Navajo County after Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer recused his office from prosecution, Husk said he spent the last few weeks getting oriented to the death-penalty case. Volkmer, a former defense attorney, was already tied to Valenzuela’s case as guardian ad litum for Valenzuela’s son before he campaigned for county attorney. In November, Volkmer defeated Lando Voyles, who first brought the charges against Valenzuela two years ago.

Valenzuela is accused of murdering Michael and Tina Careccia on June 21, 2015, and burying their bodies in his yard on Papago Road. The trial date has been set for January 2018.

Asked by Judge Kevin White if the trial date was still realistic given the amount of homework on his plate, Husk said he was confident he would be prepared.

Husk said he has been in discussion with Public Defender James Mannato about the motions up to this point and is ready to begin interviews.

His first act in court, in fact, was to agree with a motion by Mannato to preserve all recordings made related to the case, despite the cost to the court.

Mannato said his intent in preserving the recordings was to have “an accurate set of facts even as it pertains to witness interviews” and decrease the chance of any argument with the court reporter.

Husk said because many of the witnesses are primarily Spanish-speakers, “it would be much more beneficial to have an interpreter and have it recorded” rather than the time-consuming task of transcribing the conversation.

Saying he had sympathy with the request, White expressed concern about the preservation costs. He said he would take the request under advisement and consult with other judges who may have presided over similar circumstances.

Mannato expressed impatience to move the case forward again, as it has been in “a condition of hiatus for several months.”

“While the trial date seems far away, it is coming quickly,” he said. “We really need to get going.”

A central part of the delay was Volkmer’s conflict of interest and the hunt for a special prosecutor.

Husk came to the case with his own baggage, a 2014 guilty plea to misdemeanor conspiracy that involved his work as a lobbyist for the Fiesta Bowl. He was sentenced to community service, restitution and probation.

Navajo County assigned Husk to the Valenzuela case and a homicide case out of Eloy for a flat fee of $160,000. That fee is paid by Pinal County.

The next status conference, which could include oral arguments on motions already filed, was set for April 17 at 3 p.m. Relatives of the Careccias have consistently been present for each hearing.

Jose Valenzuela Jr. was back in Superior Court Monday.

A Maricopa murder suspect has been requested to submit a sample of pubic hair.

Prosecuting attorney Patrick Johnson said the hair could be further proof of physical contact between Jose Valenzuela Jr. and the victims, Tina and Michael Careccia, on the night they died.

Public Defender James Mannato protested the state was up to something else.

“That is outside the bounds of this murder case,” Mannato told Judge Kevin White.

The pre-trial hearing was Monday morning at Pinal County Superior Court.

Valenzuela is accused of first-degree murder in the deaths of the Careccias on June 21. Their bodies were found buried on his property on Papago Road early on the morning July 2, according to the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office.

Mannato said the state is trying to infer some kind of sexual contact. He said that is irrelevant to the charges.

Johnson, however, said the effort to obtain a hair sample “goes to premeditation.” He said an unidentified pubic hair was found on one of the victims.

Michael and Tina Careccia lived with family members two streets away from the man charged with their murders. (Instagram)
Michael and Tina Careccia lived with family members two streets away from the man charged with their murders. (Instagram)

Judge White approved the motion to retrieve the sample.

Mannato continues to put together a challenge to the Grand Jury proceedings, saying some things or motives may have been put in front of the jurors that were not in evidence. He has until Nov. 9 to file that challenge.

“Allegedly, he admitted to the things he’s been charged with, but I don’t know if that’s true or not,” Mannato said.

The Careccias were shot to death, according to the Pinal County Medical Examiner’s Office, which also found methamphatamine and amphetamines in the Careccias’ systems.

The arraignment in the double-murder case was in July before Judge Dwight Callahan, who had issued an order allowing the case to be televised. Monday, White was asked to clarify that order.

Johnson said the victims’ family members are not opposed to televised coverage as long as they are not shown on screen. Mannato said though media interest has waned at this point it will intensify by the time of the trail.

“I ask the court to not allow the case to be televised,” Mannato said. “It does present a very clear risk to Mr. Valenzuela being able to have a fair trial.”

White said he would not order cancellation of televised coverage. The judge will look at the order and may modify it. He said it not a matter of whether it would take place but “how it will take place.”

A trial date has not been set. Valenzuela’s next pre-trial hearing is Nov. 23 at 1:30 p.m.

A Medical Examiner's report showed meth in the systems of Michael and Tina Careccia. (Instagram photo) Jose Valenzuela is charged with their murders. (PCSO photo)

A coroner’s report on Michael and Tina Careccia indicates the presence of methamphatamine and amphetamines in their systems.

The autopsy report was released by the Pinal County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Though the cause of death in both cases was a penetrating gunshot wound to the head, the apparent presence of meth may play into the defense case being put together for the man charged with their killing, Jose Valenzuela Jr.

Valenzuela, 38, faces two counts of first-degree murder. According to the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, the Careccias were killed June 21 at Valenzuela’s home on Papago Road and then buried sometime the next day next to the house with a borrowed backhoe.

When first taken into custody on July 1, Valenzuela reportedly told detectives he had been high on meth at the time. He said the Careccias and his roommate Felix Nunez were also doing meth.

Exactly what led up to the shootings is still not clear. According to PCSO, Valenzuela had been at the Careccias’ home two streets away that day for a Father’s Day celebration. The Careccias then went to Valenzuela’s home that night.

The only witnesses to the crime, Nunez and Valenzuela told investigators there was some kind of fight. Nunez, 38, told detectives Michael Careccia, 44, was shot first.

The men’s stories differ on some points, however, which may also be important in future court proceedings.

The weapon used in the shootings is believed to be Valenzuela’s .22 caliber Magnum.

The autopsy showed the Careccias had consumed alcohol and Tina Careccia, 42, also had traces of tranquilizers in her system.

Valenzuela’s next hearing date is set for Oct. 5 in Florence. He is represented by Pinal County Public Defender James Mannato, who is mulling a challenge to the grand jury proceedings that led to Valenzuela’s indictment.


Jose Valenzuela was in Superior Court Monday for a pretrial hearing on murder charges in the deaths of Michael and Tina Careccia.

The man accused of murdering a Maricopa couple was in court Monday asking for an extension.

Jose Valenzuela Jr. is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Michael and Tina Careccia.

Pinal County Public Defender James E. Mannato told Superior Court Judge Kevin White significant evidence was still coming forward and he wanted time to go through information received only Friday. He said he wants to be able to discern if there is “any validation for challenging the grand jury proceedings.”

Family and friends of the Careccias filled two benches in the courtroom in Florence. They were silent as Valenzuela was brought in wearing red PCSO garb. He also remained silent during the pretrial hearing.

With no objection from the County Attorney’s Office, White granted the extension, with the next court date set for Oct. 5.

Afterward, Mannato said the nature of the evidence he was talking about was fingerprinting, ballistics, tire tread and toxicology. The family has refuted Valenzuela’s claim that the Careccias were using meth, so the results of the toxicology report are of primary interest to the prosecution and the defense.

Mannato said the defense will look at the forensic evidence coming forward to see if it conflicts with information given to the grand jury.

The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office has charged Valenzuela with shooting the couple to death on Father’s Day. Their bodies were found buried in a six-foot grave on the Valenzuela property on Papago Road south of Maricopa.

Valenzuela pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in July.

Jose Valenzuela was indicted on murder charges in the deaths of Mike and Tina Careccia and will face the death penalty if convicted.

A Maricopa man accused of murdering two neighbors entered a plea of not guilty at his arraignment Friday.

Jose Ignacio Valenzuela Jr. will have a pretrial hearing Aug. 24 at 9 a.m. in front of Judge Kevin White in Pinal County Superior Court. He continues to be represented by Public Defender James Mannato.

Valenzuela, 38, was arraigned in front of Judge Dwight Callahan on two charges of first-degree murder in the deaths of Michael and Tina Careccia.

Their bodies were found in a six-foot grave next to the house where he was living on Papago Road. The home is owned by Valenzuela’s parents and in the Thunderbird Farms subdivision in the unincorporated area southwest of Maricopa.

The Careccias were acquaintances of Valenzuela and lived two streets south on Mayer Boulevard. The investigation by the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office indicated Valenzuela had been with the Careccias at their Father’s Day family gathering June 21. That was the last night they were seen alive.

According to the report, the Careccias went to Valenzuela’s house sometime that night. Valenzuela claimed to detectives they came by to get methamphetamine.

PCSO is accusing Valenzuela of shooting both of the Careccias to death with a .22 Magnum revolver.

They were reported missing the next evening, June 22, by family members, and PCSO and volunteers conducted extensive searches of the area for more than a week. Valenzuela was taken into custody as a “person of interest” the afternoon of July 1. That night, PCSO uncovered the bodies.

Valenzuela remains behind bars in the PCSO Adult Detention Center on a $2 million bond.

The Careccias were married last May and together had five children.