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.