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.