After more than two years, a Maricopa double-murder case is set to go to trial in 2018. Jose Ignacio Valenzuela Jr., 40, who lived on Papago Road in the Thunderbird Farms area, is accused of killing two of his neighbors – Tina and Michael Careccia.
The husband and wife were found shot to death and buried on Valenzuela’s property. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. The trial date of Jan. 23 was vacated in December, and Valenzuela’s next hearing date is set for Jan. 31 at 1 p.m. for a status review or a trial setting.
A timeline based on law enforcement and court records
June 21, 2015: Father’s Day, the Careccias held a family gathering, which Valenzuela attended. The couple was last seen by family members around 9 p.m. Michael Careccia’s phone made several calls to Valenzuela between 9 and 11 p.m.
June 22, 2015: The Careccias did not show up for work. A family member filed a missing person’s report with Pinal County Sheriff’s Office at 7:16 p.m., and the search for Tina, 42, and Michael, 44, began. The Carreccias’ car was found on North Ralston Road at 10:09 p.m. Blood traces, later determined to be Michael Careccia’s, were found inside the vehicle.
In subsequent days, investigators and volunteers combed the area near their home on Mayer Boulevard in the unincorporated community of Thunderbird Farms, roughly three miles south of Maricopa. Valenzuela was initially questioned by investigators about the June 21 phone calls. PCSO also questioned Valenzuela’s roommate, Felix Nuñez.
June 24, 2015: A $3,000 reward is offered for information about the missing couple. The case began to draw statewide and national media interest.
June 30, 2015: After being tight-lipped about the search, PCSO announced the department’s belief that foul play was involved.
July 1, 2015: Valenzuela was formally questioned as a “person of interest.” At 3 p.m., Careccia family members held a press conference. At 3:15 p.m., a search warrant was served on Valenzuela’s property at 50669 W. Papapgo Road, two blocks north of the Careccias’ home, and a .22 revolver was recovered from the house. PCSO forensic teams began digging in the yard.
July 2, 2015: At around 2 a.m., the bodies of Tina and Michael Careccia were found buried in a six-foot grave next to the house. Valenzuela was arrested.
July 8, 2015: Formal charges of two counts of first-degree murder were filed against Valenzuela after a grand jury indictment. Public Defender James Mannato became Valenzuela’s attorney. Local attorney Kent Volkmer was appointed guardian of Valenzuela’s son.
July 17, 2015: Valenzuela pleaded not guilty, claiming self-defense. His bond was set at $2 million.
Aug. 28, 2015: A report by the Pinal County Medical Examiner’s Office found the Careccias both died from a gunshot wound to the head. The coroner’s report also indicated the presence of methamphetamine, amphetamines and alcohol.
Jan. 15, 2016: The state filed notice of intent to seek the death penalty.
March 7, 2016: The case was remanded to a grand jury when it was determined certain information presented to the first grand jury was not submitted into evidence.
April 6, 2016: A second indictment was handed down.
May 25, 2016: The state again filed notice of intent to seek the death penalty.
July 29, 2016: A trial date of Jan. 23, 2018, was set for Valenzuela.
Aug. 30, 2016: Volkmer defeated County Attorney Lando Voyles in the Republican primary election. He was unopposed in the general election.
Jan. 3, 2017: Volkmer was sworn into office and subsequently recused himself and PCAO from the prosecution of the case.
Feb. 27, 2017: Navajo County attorney Gary Husk was appointed by the state to be special prosecutor.
Dec. 21, 2017: After a settlement conference, Judge Kevin White vacated the trial date and set a new hearing for Jan. 31.