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Both sides in a lawsuit against Pinal County over a tax to improve roads are now waiting for a judge to decide whether that tax can continue to be collected during appeals.

The Goldwater Institute’s suit against the county and the Arizona Department of Revenue remains alive after a Maricopa County Tax Court ruled against the county in the case, Harold Vangilder et al. v. Arizona Department of Revenue et al., earlier this year. The defendants are preparing to file an appeal in the Arizona Court of Appeals Division 1.

The tax-court judgment was officially filed Nov. 15.

“It’s unfortunate the county is going to waste taxpayers’ money appealing this case when they’ve already wasted taxpayer money on the issue they were warned was illegal before the election,” Goldwater attorney Timothy Sandefur said.

At the center of the argument is Prop 417, approved by county voters in 2017. It is the funding mechanism for Prop 416, which is a plan to improve several roadways in Pinal County, including State Route 347. The Goldwater Institute, a conservative thinktank that litigates public-policy issues across the country, spoke out against Prop 417 during the campaign.

Joseph Kanefield, attorney for Pinal County, asked Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Whitten to stay the enforcement of the tax-court ruling and allow the collected monies to continue to be put into escrow until the case is finally resolved.

Whitten took up the motion Monday.

“He’s a judge who takes his time to weigh all the consequences of his decision,” Sandefur said.

Sandefur’s stand is that Pinal County opted to ignore the appropriate method of collecting sales tax for a funding project and instead devised a “scheme” that would exclude big-ticket businesses like auto dealerships, farming equipment dealers and others selling items that would generate more than $10,000 in sales tax. Kanefield argued the proposition as voted on by the public was not in the form as presented to the tax court by the plaintiffs.

“We believe the tax court erred in his ruling in terms of what was presented to the voters versus the resolution originally proposed by the Pinal Regional Transportation Authority,” Kanefield said. “Ultimately, the way the tax was structured was within the scope of the state statute that allows the RTA to propose a tax at a variable or modified rate, which is exactly what they did.”

Kanefield said if Judge Whitten rules against his motion to stay the enforcement of the tax-court ruling, he will include that issue with his appeal to the higher court.

Collection of the tax has never been suspended.

“A general principal of tax law is you don’t enjoin or stop the collection of a tax that’s being challenged in court,” Kanefield said, “because the ramifications of that are pretty severe.”

Meanwhile, Sandefur has an appeal of his own after the court denied his motion to collect $12,000 in attorney’s fees from the defendants in the case.

Pinal County has until mid-December to file its intention to appeal. Kanefield said he may ask the appeals court for an expedited process. He estimated the briefings could be completed by spring, “unless we can get the court to act quicker.”

Arthur Eric Magana (PCSO photo)

 

It took less than one hour Monday for a Pinal County jury to find Arthur Eric Magaña guilty of killing 20-year-old Wyatt Miller.

Magana was convicted of first-degree murder after shooting Miller 11 times in the back of the head and neck on Nov. 7, 2016. The jury also found Magaña guilty of armed robbery as Miller was killed during the theft of four ounces of marijuana.

Magaña, now 18, is accused of killing Miller inside his truck. The alleged murder took place in a rural area of Maricopa, according to court testimony.

Magaña was just 16 years old at the time of the murder but is charged as an adult due to the gruesome nature of the murder.

Magaña’s murder and armed robbery trial began Wednesday and was handed to the nine-woman, three-man jury Monday afternoon just after 2 p.m. The jury took under an hour to return the guilty verdicts. 

The jury was brought back into the courtroom at 3:45 p.m. to hear sentencing instructions and decide Magaña’s fate in the second phase of the trial.

Judge Kevin White said the jury will only determine the aggravated circumstances and not Magaña’s sentence. White will be the one to determine the 18-year-old’s sentence.

The state called two witnesses in the second phase of the trial including Maxine Medlock, Wyatt Miller’s mother.

“I’m not sure where to begin. Wyatt was the love of my life. He had such a good spirit. A loss of a child is so painful. The pain never goes away. Wyatt had his whole life ahead of him… I’m upset I have to live the rest of my life without him,” she said.

The state also called Travis Miller, Wyatt’s father. “We, as parents, aren’t supposed to bury our children,” he said. “My life has changed 180 degrees.”

The defense called no witnesses in the second phase.

The jury left the courtroom at 4:15 to determine if the first-degree murder charge would be enhanced due to aggravating circumstances. Attorneys were told to wait in the hallway as the jury decided.

The jury returned at 4:46 to hand down their aggravating circumstances endorsement.

Magana’s fate then rested in the hands of Judge White. He ordered Magaña held without bond and set sentencing for Dec. 17.

 

Arthur Eric Magana (PCSO photo)

Closing arguments began in Arthur Magaña’s murder trial Monday afternoon in Pinal County Superior Court, and the jury began deliberation within an hour.

Magaña, 18, is accused of killing 20-year-old Wyatt Miller by shooting him 11 times inside his truck on Nov. 7, 2016.

The alleged murder took place in a rural area of Maricopa during the theft of four ounces of marijuana, according to court testimony. Magaña was just 16 years old at the time of the murder but is charged as an adult due to the gruesome nature of the murder.

Magaña’s murder and armed robbery trial began Wednesday and was handed to the nine-woman, three-man jury Monday afternoon just after 2 p.m.

State opened closing arguments.

“What is the value of a life,” said prosecutor Patrick Johnson. “For this defendant, life is cheap. It was just the cost of doing business.”

Gustavo Olivo was also involved in the crime and has already pleaded guilty to charges of second-degree murder and armed robbery.

“He (Magaña) fired 11 rounds into the back of his head, and Wyatt didn’t even see it coming. He took the cowards way out and never gave him a chance,” Johnson said in closing arguments.

Officers trained in tracking followed footprints to a house where the defendants were located, according to Johnson.

“They made it pretty easy for them… They led officers right to themselves,” Johnson told the jury.

Investigators smelled marijuana after entering the house and found the four ounces of marijuana, allegedly taken from Miller. More evidence was found in the freezer and their shoes matched the prints. Blood was also found on their shoes, according to Johnson.

“This isn’t a self-defense case,” Johnson said. “This is not a case where someone has no other choice but to use lethal force.”

Johnson said the 9mm semi-automatic HK handgun used in the murder was purchased by Magaña’s mother. He added that blood on Magana’s clothing matched Miller’s DNA.

“He never realized he had Wyatt Miller’s blood on him,” Johnson told the jury.

Johnson called the crime a planned armed robbery and execution.

“His body tells you what happened. Of the 11 wounds, not one was in the face. Wyatt Miller never saw it coming,” Johnson said.

Johnson said Magana also bragged about the murder and “was proud of what he did. He was the one who pulled the trigger 11 times and killed Wyatt Miller… Not only killed him he executed him…it was a cowardly execution.”

Defense attorney David Gregan reviewed the “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” statute with the jury. He said Olivo and Miller knew each other, and that Olivo is the one who went around the vehicle and grabbed the marijuana after the alleged murder took place.

“The state wants to convince you that this was a planned robbery,” Gregan said. “But that’s not the case.”

He said it wasn’t a planned robbery because they didn’t take everything and didn’t have a plan of escape from the scene.

“The evidence you saw at trial dictated that something happened out there,” Gregan said.

Gregan told the jury to realize Magaña was just 16 years old at the time and was defending himself.

“Something happened out there before the shooting. What it was, we do not know… no one knows for sure,” Gregan said.

Gregan said there was a second 9mm gun inside the vehicle that was not tested by investigators. The untested gun raised uncertainty, according to Gregan.

During the State’s rebuttal, Johnson said, “We know exactly what happened before the shooting because he (Magaña) told us… He executed him by shooting him in the back of the head 11 times.”

Johnson said the two made posts on Facebook before the incident indicating this was a planned armed robbery and Magaña bragged about the murder on videotape while in custody.

Johnson called Magaña the mastermind behind the armed robbery and execution and that Miller’s life had value and meaning even if he was a drug dealer.

“Wyatt Miller’s life had more value than four ounces of marijuana,” said Johnson.

Judge Kevin D. White read jury instructions and sent the jury to begin deliberations on the two charges, first-degree murder and armed robbery.

Arthur Eric Magana is scheduled for trial next week in the death of Wyatt Miller.

The trial of Arthur Magaña, 18, on a charge of first-degree murder is set to begin next week with jury selection, but the judge had to rule on an important issue Wednesday in an evidentiary hearing.

Homicide Detective Joe Bonucci took the stand in Pinal County Superior Court to talk about the night Magaña was arrested after the shooting death of Wyatt Miller, 20. That was Nov. 7, 2016, exactly two years before this week’s hearing.

In pre-trial paperwork, Magaña’s counsel had filed a motion to suppress statements, claiming a Miranda warning violation during interrogation. Judge Kevin White asked to hear the detective’s account of that night during Wednesday’s hearing before ruling on the matter.

Two days earlier, Magaña’s one-time co-defendant, Gustavo Olivo, was sentenced to 25 years in prison after reaching a plea agreement with the Pinal County Attorney’s Office. Olivo admitted to second-degree murder and armed robbery but said Magana was the gunman.

Magaña is charged with murder and armed robbery.

Wednesday, Miller’s father and Magaña’s mother attended the hearing.

Prosecutor Patrick Johnson asked Bonucci detailed questions about the night of the arrest in an effort to disprove the defense’s claims. Bonucci was the case agent and on-call detective. According to the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, a report of shots fired was logged at 7:30 p.m. and deputies arrived shortly after.

At 8 p.m., Bonucci was called by his supervisor and sent to the scene on a rural road south of Maricopa. While en route, he was informed there were two locations being investigated. Miller’s body had been found in a Chevy pickup truck on Cardinal Road “a hundred yards or so from the nearest residence,” and two suspects had been found at a home on Oak Road.

Bonucci testified no deputies interrogated Magaña or Olivo at the scene. He said one teen was placed in a PCSO vehicle while the other was placed in an Ak-Chin Police vehicle during the preliminary investigation. Eventually, both were placed in a PCSO posse vehicle, and an investigation team member placed a digital recorder in the vehicle. Bonucci said the suspects, who were 16 and 17 at the time, were not questioned in the car, either.

The detective said they later found the digital recorder to have been tampered with or the batteries removed.

Magaña and Olivo were taken to PCSO in Florence, arriving at 3:13 a.m. Bonucci said they were taken to the second floor and placed in separate interview rooms across the hall from each other.

Having learned on the trip back to Florence that the teens were under age 18, Bonucci said his team employed juvenile protocol, which included contacting a legal guardian for each before interrogation. In Magaña’s case, his mother arrived and was soon taken to the interrogation room to be with her son.

It was at that point, Bonucci testified, Magaña was read his Miranda rights. He opted not to answer questions without an attorney, he said.

Meanwhile, Olivo was allowed to have a phone conversation with a sister who was not his legal guardian. Bonucci said Olivo answered some questions before also invoking his Miranda rights, and the interview stopped.

Bonucci testified the teens were placed in one interview room where they could be monitored by video and audio while the investigative team tried to work out whether to book them into juvenile detention or adult detention.

“We knew they would be remanded and charged as adults,” he said.

During the disagreement among the authorities (the teens were eventually booked into juvenile detention), Magaña and Olivo apparently had a conversation while they waited. Bonucci said investigators did not talk to them, they were not interrogated, questioned, coerced or threatened, but they were recorded.

“It’s an interview room,” Bonucci said. “The interview room is recorded.”

What was said during that one-on-one conversation in the interview room was at the heart of the motion to suppress.

White ruled the situation was not a Miranda issue and several statements made during that conversation could be used as evidence during the trial. The judge disagreed with the defense counsel’s argument that the teens’ conversation took place in an “ad hoc continuation of the interview” and should have been part of the invocation of Miranda rights.

White also said there was no “custodial interrogation” and no indication Olivo “was acting as an agent of the state” or trying to make Magaña make incriminating statements.

Jury selection is scheduled for Tuesday. White said he is confident the trial will be finished by Nov. 21.

Gustovo Olivo, 19, was sentenced to 25 years behind bars. PCSO photo

Travis Miller and Maxine Linette Medlock spoke emotionally of the dreams they had for their son Wyatt Miller in court Monday.

Gustavo Olivo, 19, was sentenced to 25 years in prison and seven years probation for his part in Wyatt’s death two years ago. The sentencing by Judge Kevin White came after a plea deal in Pinal County Superior Court.

Travis Miller placed a photo of his son on the counsel table for White to see because “I wanted to put a face on the victim.”

Wyatt Miller was 20 years old when he was killed Nov. 7, 2016. “I had plans, I had goals, I had dreams that included my two sons,” Travis Miller said.

Olivo, wearing an orange PCSO sweatshirt, mainly stared ahead or at the floor as the father spoke.

“I think you are an evil, selfish coward,” Miller told him.

Olivo and Arthur Magana, 18, are accused of planning the murder that involved shooting Wyatt 11 times. Magana has a hearing set for Wednesday before the same judge.

“It is so devastating and heartbreaking to lose a child,” Medlock said.

Miller said the family is getting a little bit of justice with the sentence of Olivo and hopes for more in the case against Magana.

“This is only a part of the nightmare,” he said.

In his plea, Olivo admitted to planning and participating in the murder of Wyatt Miller but said Magana was the gunman. The seven years of probation is attached to the second charge of armed robbery. Travis Miller said Olivo could have stopped the murder at any time but did not.

Miller said he hopes Olivo takes advantage of the programs in “big boy prison” and comes out a better man. He said the last thing society needs is another uneducated felon back in the community.

Judge White said though he considered Olivo’s age of 17 at the time of the murder and his remorse in his sentencing, it was not enough to override the aggravating factors or harm done to the family. White noted the investigation report that stated the defendants laughed after Wyatt was shot in the back of the head.

The night Wyatt was killed, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office responded to a report of shots fired at around 7:30 p.m. on West Cardinal Road in an unincorporated area south of Maricopa. Wyatt Miller was soon found dead in a Chevy truck. Money and other property had been taken. Deputies followed two sets of footprints to a home on South Oak Road, where the teens were arrested. They were indicted Nov. 16.

In early court hearings, Olivo and Magana appeared together, but their cases were severed in April this year. Olivo’s extended family members were in court as were several members of Wyatt Miller’s family to hear Wyatt’s parents.

“He was fixing to move to Texas,” Medlock said of her son. “He had goals and things he wanted to make changes on. So much has been taken away from our family.”

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Stephen F. McCarville, presiding judge of the Superior Court in Pinal County, has appointed two Superior Court Commissioners to fill vacancies created by the gubernatorial appointments of Robert Carter Olson and Patrick Gard to the Pinal County Superior Court bench.

Barbara A. Hazel, a former hospital administrator who currently works as a principal attorney for the Pinal County Public Defender’s Office, was selected for one of the two vacancies left by Olson and Gard earlier this week.

Karen F. Palmer, who currently works for the Pinal County Attorney’s Office as deputy county attorney prosecuting major crimes, was selected to fill the other vacancy.

McCarville thanked McDermott, Kelly Neal and Megan Weagant, who were included in the five candidates identified by the Superior Court’s Judicial Selection Committee to move forward for the judge’s consideration.

Hazel and Palmer are expected to begin their new roles as commissioners Oct. 22.

ADOT

Pinal County residents have been paying an extra half-cent retail sales tax since April to fund future transportation projects.

Wednesday, a Maricopa County Superior Court Tax Court judge said that violates state law. That puts the breaks on plans to widen State Route 347, at least for the moment.

Now the battle may be fought inside the Arizona Court of Appeals.

Voters narrowly approved Prop 417 in November, the funding mechanism of the Pinal County Regional Transportation Authority’s Prop 416 that would provide a 20-year plan to create and improve roads. That plan seeks to add lanes to SR 347.

Phoenix-based conservative thinktank The Goldwater Institute filed suit in December, challenging the tax’s legality in the case Harold Vangilder, et al. v. Arizona Department of Revenue, et al. Goldwater later motioned the court to delay the collection of the tax.

Judge Christopher Whitten denied the request in March and the tax was implemented April 1. Those funds are held in escrow until the conclusion of the case.

Aug. 2, Whitten ruled the county-wide tax did not coincide with statute as it too narrowly targets a tax on retail and not on all sales tax categories, according to court documents.

The Goldwater Institute applauded Whitten’s most recent decision in a press release published to its website the day of the ruling.

“Thanks to the Court’s decision, Pinal County taxpayers are the real winners today,” Goldwater Institute Vice President for Litigation Timothy Sandefur said. “Had this sales tax gone forward, the damage to taxpayers’ wallets and to economic opportunity in Pinal County would have been immense.”

The Institute claimed the monies collected since April will have to be refunded by the county.

A statement on the Pinal RTA website challenged the judge’s ruling and argued voters knew in November the tax applies to all classifications and not just retail sales. Whitten said the wording of Prop 417 was “insufficient” to establish that.

Pinal RTA indicated the war over the funding may not be over.

“…We disagree with Judge Whitten’s ruling and will consult with outside counsel regarding an appeal to the State Court of Appeals,” according to the Pinal RTA statement.

“I’m disappointed with the ruling, but confident we will win on appeal,” Pinal County Supervisor Anthony Smith said. “The sooner we get this done, the sooner we reduce accidents, save lives and build for the future.”

Requests for comments from Pinal RTA General Manager Andy Smith, Pinal County spokesman Joe Pyritz, Pinal RTA Citizens Advisory Committee Member Tena Dugan, and Mayor Christian Price, who is a Pinal RTA Board Member, were not immediately returned.


This story has been updated to include remarks from Anthony Smith.

Arthur Eric Magana and Gustavo Olivo are charged with murder. PCSO photos

Monday, Pinal County Judge Christopher O’Neil set the trial date for one of the teens accused of murdering 20-year-old Wyatt Miller nearly two years ago.

Arthur Eric Magana will stand trial Nov. 13 at 9 a.m. in front of Judge Kevin White and a 12-person jury.

The November trial was tentatively scheduled in April when White officially set the trial for co-defendant Gustavo Olivo.

John Schaus, attorney for Olivo, previously expressed a desire to settle his client’s case without a trial. However, Olivo’s trial begins two weeks before Magana’s on Oct. 30.

O’Neil, who was covering White’s docket temporarily Monday afternoon, affirmed the October trial date. O’Neil said the two trials will remain under White and will not be subjected to reassignment. Both trials are estimated to last six days each.

The teens are accused of first degree murder and burglary in the shooting death of Miller on Nov. 7, 2016, in an unincorporated area of Maricopa.

Magana and Olivo will return to court for status review hearings in July.

Shawn Main. PCSO photo

 

The homicide case involving a Maricopa woman might not see trial until after the third anniversary of the victim’s death.

Shawn Main, 48, was scheduled to stand trial in July in the first-degree murder and child abuse of 3-year-old Tiana Capps.

The toddler died of blunt force trauma at Banner Casa Grande Regional Medical Center after Main, the child’s caretaker, called for emergency help on Ralston Road southwest of Maricopa in December 2015.

In April, the defense team successfully pushed the trial to January.

Co-attorneys Chester Lockwood and Cody Weagant argued they needed additional time to prepare the defense, blaming much of it on their client’s alleged medical conditions.

Main’s health issues include “probable and suspected” heart problems, diabetes, chronic swelling and poor circulation of the feet, a goiter and a growth on her chest area, according to a court document filed in April.

The defense team said Main needs a primary care physician and a complete medical evaluation before an eventual thyroid surgery ahead of trial. Lockwood and Weagant wrote in their motion to court that neither they nor their client had a timeline for when those would occur.

Instead of preparing for her summer trial, Main and her attorneys are now hoping to dig through evidence they motioned for access to in May.

The defense is asking the court to release electronic devices seized by the state, including those belonging to Main’s co-defendants: her ex-wife Maria Tiglao and the victim’s biological mother Tina Morse.

“It is believed the seized devices contain exculpatory evidence and the state has possessed the same for nearly three years,” court documents state.

Main is also motioning the court for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) records for the victim and her three siblings who lived with Main and the other two women in a home in unincorporated Maricopa.

Court documents state the Casa Grande WIC office weighed and measured the children during each visit.

A medical examiner testified earlier this year that Tiana Capps was undernourished.

Counsel for the victims has until early June to file a response to those motions.

Main will be in court for a hearing July 16 at 3 p.m.


Plea deal gets Maricopa mom 2 years in prison after child’s death

Court preps for ‘pre-trial’ against woman accused of killing 3-year-old

Medical examiner testifies in homicide of Maricopa toddler

Homicide detective testifies in death of 3-year-old

 

Marcos Martinez is accused of the brutal murder of Vicky Ten Hoven. (photos PCSO/Facebook)

The man accused of killing his grandmother earlier this year will undergo a mental examination to determine his competency to stand trial.

Pinal County Superior Court Judge Dwight Callahan ordered Marcos Jerell Martinez to a “full Rule 11 examination” in court Wednesday morning.

Martinez, with a full beard and long hair, appeared in a brown jumpsuit for his hearing May 2, but his cooperation with counsel has apparently been an issue.

Callahan recently approved a motion by the defense team to visit with their client at the door of his jail cell after concerns were filed that Martinez repeatedly “denies or refuses” to meet with attorneys, according to court documents filed in April.

The first-degree murder suspect submitted to a rule 11 pre-screening in March where a doctor recommended a full examination.

The state and the public defender’s office both nominated psychologists to fulfill the order.

Those results are expected to be reviewed in court June 27 at 9 a.m.

After the mental examination review hearing this summer, attorneys for Martinez are expected to file a motion to remand the case to a second grand jury for a new probable cause determination.

A grand jury indicted Martinez in February of premediated first-degree murder, punishable by death or life in prison, after the Maricopa Police Department forwarded additional charges of tampering with evidence and unlawful use of means of transportation in the same case. Martinez is held in the Pinal County Detention Center on a $1 million secured bond.

Martinez stands accused in the Jan. 28 blunt-force trauma death of Vicky Ten Hoven in Rancho El Dorado.


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Arthur Eric Magana and Gustavo Olivo are charged with murder. PCSO photos

Two teens accused of murder appeared in court Monday nearly two weeks after their original trial date.

Arthur Eric Magana and Gustavo Olivo were scheduled to go through trial as co-defendants April 10, but received separate trial dates in court April 23. The teens allegedly shot to death 20-year-old Wyatt Miller in 2016 in unincorporated Maricopa.

Olivo will stand trial for six days beginning Oct. 30. Magana’s trial, also planned for six days, is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 13. Both trials would feature a 12-person jury.

John Schaus, attorney for Olivo, said he’s still hoping to settle the matter without trial by way of an offer from the state.

“If we settle this, I’ll let you know immediately,” Schauss told Pinal County Superior Court Judge Kevin White.

White vacated the original trial last month because of other conflicting trial dates.

Olivo and Magana will return to court June 11 for a status review conference.


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Kathryn Sinkevitch will be tried for the murder of her former boyfriend. PCSO photo

Michael Agerter’s accused murderer will face a 12-person jury trial after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Michael Agerter

The four-week trial will begin Nov. 27 and is expected to end just four days before Christmas.

Pinal County Judge Kevin White vacated the original spring trial for defendant Kathryn Sinkevitch last month to accommodate defense attorney Bret Huggins’ slammed trial load.

White expressed concern in court April 9 that the new trial may run long and overlap into the busy Christmas week. He told Huggins and prosecutor Shawn Jensvold he may add Mondays to the trial schedule to prevent that situation.

If that decision is made, it’s unclear whether the inaugural day of trial would be moved to Nov. 26.

White also asked lawyers on both sides if a settlement conference had taken place. The goal of these sessions is to resolve the case without trial.

Huggins said one hadn’t occurred and later agreed with Jensvold’s comment that it likely “would not be fruitful.”

The day before the last week of trial begins will mark the second anniversary of Agerter’s murder. The victim was shot to death in the garage of his Rancho El Dorado home Dec. 16, 2016.

Monday’s successful trial date setting was not without a violation of courtroom etiquette.

A bailiff admonished a woman for waving and repeatedly calling the suspect’s name from the gallery as Sinkevitch walked shackled to a holding cell at the conclusion of the hearing.

Sinkevitch will return to White’s courtroom July 16 at 1:30 p.m. for a status review conference ahead of trial.

Sales tax set to be implemented April 1

The RTA plans are aimed at widening State Route 347 and establishing an east-west corridor.

Pinal County and the Regional Transportation Authority filed a legal response Monday to an injunction request filed by the Goldwater Institute over a transportation sales tax.

The tax and the transportation infrastructure improvements it is meant to fund (Props 416/417) were approved by county voters in November. The Goldwater Institute, a conservative thinktank based in Phoenix, filed suit in December against the county, the RTA and the Arizona Department of Revenue. Plaintiffs are listed as Arizona Restaurant Association, county resident Harold Vangilder and On Sight Shooting owner Dan Neidig.

The suit [read it here] challenges the legality of the tax and also claims it exceeds the county’s authority “by creating a new tax classification.”

“The problem is the tax is so complicated and confusing that nobody really knows what is taxed and how,” Timothy Sandefur, Goldwater vice president, said at the time.

After the defendants filed a response in January, the plaintiffs asked the court for a preliminary injunction, hoping to stop the implementation of the tax on April 1. They said collecting the tax while the suit is still being decided would cause irreparable injury and hardship. [Read the motion here.]

The case is in Maricopa County Superior Court in front of Judge Chris Whitten.

In responding to Goldwater’s motion, the defendants called the claims of voter confusion “apparitional.” The response [read it here] also stated the plaintiffs failed to meet the requirements for injunction.

“This lawsuit is nothing more than a post-election attack by those who failed to convince voters to oppose the transportation tax at the election,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Todd House stated. “The voters spoke clearly about the need for improved transportation infrastructure in the Pinal region last November while also expressing their willingness to pay an additional sales tax that amounts to about $7.33 per month per household.”

There is continuing uncertainty over the legal ramifications if the court does not grant the preliminary injunction to halt the start of tax collection on April 1 but Whitten later rules against the RTA. The county cannot proceed with RTA plans until the case is settled.


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Shawn Main. PCSO photo

Testimony concluded Friday in the two-part Chronis hearing surrounding the blunt-force trauma death of 3-year-old Tiana Capps in 2015.

The defense team for Shawn Main, the woman charged with Tiana’s murder, called the special hearing months ago to require the state to establish probable cause in the death-penalty case.

Pinal County Sherriff’s Office Homicide Detective Michael Benedict testified March 2. The first portion of the hearing was held in January with testimony from a medical examiner.

A portion of Benedict’s testimony expanded on an allegation of a note allegedly written by Main the day after Tiana’s death. Prosecutors previously alleged the letter exonerated Main’s wife Maria Tiglao and the children’s biological mother, Tina Morse.

The three adults lived together with Morse’s four children in unincorporated Maricopa. Tiana was pronounced dead at Banner Casa Grande Medical Center Nov. 19.

Deputies allegedly discovered the note at Main’s residence Nov. 20 after they responded to a missing person’s call from Tiglao, according to court documents.

Written on lined paper, the note reads in part:

“To whom it may concern:
November 2015
I, Shawn Main, take full responsibility in the death of Tiana Capps. She would never have died if I sought medical attention the first night she was falling. Whether I thought it happened from her acting out on purpose or not, had I not let my pride get in the way, she would still be here alive. Neither Chris Tiglao nor Tina Morse had any knowledge of what was happening when Tiana was falling over and over. Nobody else had any contact with her so that leaves me responsible for her alleged sexual abuse as well. I am not worthy of keeping my life when she never had a chance to live hers.
Shawn Main”

After searching the property, Benedict said deputies found Main in a detached garage.

At that time, Benedict was in Tucson at Tiana’s autopsy.

“I received a text message from patrol while I was at the autopsy that Ms. Main had tried to take her own life,” Benedict said. “She was being transported to the hospital.”

Benedict further testified that photos taken of Main included “pretty substantial injuries to her forearms.”

Main eventually recovered from her injuries and was interviewed at her home Dec. 5.

In response to a counter by the Defense Attorney Chester Lockwood, Benedict testified Main had stayed consistent in her explanation of the bruising on Tiana’s forehead during all three police interviews prior to all three women’s arrest on Dec. 24.

Benedict said Main never evaded questioning by detectives.

Prosecutors have until March 12 to file a memorandum with the court regarding the Chronis hearing. The defense is expected to file a response a week later. The state can submit a rebuttal by March 23.

Possibly delaying the upcoming trial is Main’s “major surgery” that has yet to be successfully scheduled, Main’s defense said in court.

The four-week trial is set for July 31.

Main will appear in court for a pre-trial hearing April 2, pending a confirmed surgery date.

Arthur Eric Magana and Gustavo Olivo are charged with murder. PCSO photos

The teens charged with the murder of 20-year-old Wyatt Miller appeared separately in court Monday in a hearing two months ahead of their trial date.

Co-defendants Gustavo Olivo and Arthur Magana are charged with first-degree murder and armed robbery in the 2016 shooting death of Miller in an incident south of Maricopa.

Attorneys for the defendants are prepared for an April 10 trial, but that date could be pushed back due to the heavy trial case load for the judge assigned to the case.

Judge Kevin White said he has three capital cases going to trial around the same time, including Olivo’s and Magana’s trial.

Magana’s attorney, James Soslowsky, is currently in the middle of representing a separate murder trial. He said Magana’s case could still be ready for the April trial, pending what could be a major change to the case.

“There’s a couple of issues that I need to take a look at,” Soslowsky said. “One primary concern for the trial date is whether or not I’m going to be filing a motion to sever.”

That motion would create separate trials for the defendants. State law requires counsel to file the motion 20 days before trial.

Soslowsky requested the case return to White’s court room in two weeks, when the attorney said he would be better prepared to discuss a possible change in the trial date. John Schaus, Olivo’s attorney, later made the same request of the judge.

White scheduled a status review hearing for both defendants March 12 at 1:30 p.m. The judge said a possible alternate trial date could be May 1.

“That’s just a consideration and not something I’m pushing for,” White said.

Witness and evidence lists have been building in the case since September.

Prosecutors named three Department of Public Safety forensic scientists and an officer as witnesses five months ago. Document evidence submissions included law enforcement reports, DNA examination report, latent print examination report, controlled substance examination report and a serology examination report.

In January, forensic scientist Aaron Brudenell was added as a witness expected to testify as a firearms expert. Brudenell’s firearms examination report and another report by a detective on the case were also submitted as evidence.

An investigator joined Shaus in Olivo’s case “to assist in preparation of this case” in December.

White approved Goodyear-based DiCarlo Associates LLC, a private investigation company that “has done over 250 criminal defense cases…including approximately 15 capital murder cases” since 2004, according to court documents.

Schaus has requested reimbursement of reasonable expense incurred through the firm’s hiring which costs $45 per hour.

Miguel Figueroa. PCSO photo

The man accused of killing his wife, Olivia Figueroa, with a sword in 2016 was absent for his court date Monday morning.

Representing Miguel Figueroa during the status review hearing in Pinal County Superior Court was public defender Mark Benson.

“Your honor, on the next matter, I do not have a client here,” Benson told Judge Kevin White Feb. 26.

Figueroa has been in custody inside Pinal County Jail since his arrest in 2016. When White prompted the attorney for explanation on his client’s absence, Benson said it was not due to illness or other similar circumstance.

Benson said he was told by law enforcement that Figueroa did not wish to appear in court.

“According to them, the sheriffs, (Figueroa) said, ‘I have trial in May. I’ll show up then,” Benson told White

However, the judge’s upcoming docket is slammed with upcoming trial dates near the time of Figueroa’s. Benson and prosecutor Kristen Sharifi agreed Monday to meet March 12 to discuss “revisiting” Figueroa’s trial with his client present in court.

Attorney and prosecutor had also met with White in his chambers prior to the hearing to discuss the matter.

“Based upon our conversation in chambers, I will speak to Miguel,” Benson said. “I will get him (here) in two weeks so we can discuss the trial setting,” Benson said.

In January, court documents reveal Figueroa’s attorneys, Benson and Scott Johnson, motioned for a Rule 11 psychological evaluation for their client that was later granted.

Benson said he recently submitted the evaluation to the court. White said Monday morning he has since reviewed the report. The results of the evaluation have not been made available to the public.

A grand jury re-indicted Figueroa Dec. 20 on the same four charges from 2016: first-degree murder, kidnapping and two counts of aggravated assault.

He pled not guilty to all counts nine days later.

Figueroa is scheduled to appear in court ahead of his trial for a status review hearing March 12 at 1:30 p.m.



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Shawn Main. PCSO photo

Attorneys for the state will call a medical examiner as witness in a special January hearing for Shawn Main, the woman accused of causing the death of 3-year-old Tiana Rosalie Capps in 2015.

Monday, Pinal County Superior Court Judge Kevin White rescheduled a “Chronis hearing” for Jan. 18, after its original date was vacated Dec. 1 due to a full court docket.

Main’s attorneys requested the hearing ahead of her trial in July, when she will be tried for capital murder. The hearing permits such defendants to “request a determination of probable cause as to alleged aggravating circumstances,” according to Arizona Supreme Court Law.

During the status review hearing Dec. 18, Prosecutor Vince Goddard revealed the state’s argument in the future Chronis hearing will be based on two aggravating circumstances: the victim’s age and the offense allegedly being heinous, cruel and depraved.

The hearing is scheduled to last two hours with the state’s main testimony coming from a medical examiner.

“I think the state’s case would be about 45 minutes, and that’s almost 100 percent going to be the medical examiner,” Goddard said during the hearing Monday.

The autopsy performed by Pima Medical Examiner’s Office two years ago showed Tiana died from repeated blunt-force trauma Nov. 19, 2015, while in the care of Main.

After her death, Tiana’s three surviving siblings were taken into protective custody and had been also reportedly subjected to abuse and neglect.

On Christmas Eve that year, Main and two other women living in the household were arrested: Main’s wife Maria Tiglao and the children’s biological mother Tina Morse.

Main, Tiana’s caretaker, was subsequently charged with murder while the other two women were charged with varying counts of child abuse.

The Chronis hearing is set for Jan. 18 at 8:30 a.m. at the Pinal County Superior Courthouse.



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Kathryn Sinkevitch will be tried for the murder of her former boyfriend. PCSO photo

The murder case against the Tempe woman accused of killing 31-year-old Michael Agerter in the garage of his rental home in Rancho El Dorado nearly one year ago is inching closer to trial.

Kathryn Sinkevitch stood in front of Pinal County Judge Steven Fuller Monday morning for a brief status review hearing. Fuller covered the case for Judge Kevin White, who was assigned to hear a separate trial that morning.

Representing Sinkevitch since late June was attorney Bret Huggins, who requested an additional status review hearing for a date soon after the New Year in preparation for a spring trial.

James Mannato, original attorney for Sinkevitch, withdrew from the case in June for an unspecified “conflict of interest.” Mannato is a public defender.

Huggins also asked Fuller to affirm the May 8, 2018, trial date.

Pinal County Deputy Attorney Sean Coll did not object, adding Agerter’s next of kin indicated they were available to attend court on those dates.

Sinkevitch will stand trial for four weeks in front of a 12-person jury. A grand jury indicted her with first-degree murder in late December 2016.

Sinkevitch has submitted a not guilty plea.

Coll tossed the possibility of a capital case in March citing a lapsed deadline. It was at that time Coll said the Pinal County’s Attorney’s Office would not offer a plea.

Agerter is linked to Sinkevitch by a 1-year-old child that was said to have been the center of a custody dispute between the pair. Agerter was found shot to death in his garage one month after the baby’s birth in the garage of his Maricopa home on Dec. 16, 2016.

It is unclear what Sinkevitch’s defense will be in trial.

In February, White approved the appointment of Susan Schoville with Valley-based Blue Core Investigative Solutions to “assist the defendant and her legal counsel in the investigation and development of her defense,” according to court documents.

Schoville began her investigation in June with Huggins, Sinkevitch and their 144-page case file. Schoville compiled an outline of the case including 911 calls and discovery videos presumably from the defendant’s work dated Dec. 16 through the 19th.

Sinkevitch will be in court again Jan. 9 at 9 a.m.

Shawn Main. PCSO photo

The woman accused of causing the 2015 death of a 3-year-old girl was back in Superior Court Monday afternoon.

Shawn Main, 46, appeared in front of Judge Kevin White as her attorney requested to set a date for a “Chronis” hearing.

This specific hearing only applies to capital cases and is “effectively a pre-trial probable cause hearing on the statutory aggravators that the state alleges,” said James Tanner, spokesman for the Pinal County Attorney’s Office.

The two-hour court date is set for Dec. 1 at 8:30 a.m., and will feature appearances made by case witnesses.

The hearing is in preparation for a July trial. The state alleges Main caused the blunt-force trauma death of Tiana Rosalie Capps.

Living in the home at the time of Tiana’s death in unincorporated Maricopa were Tiana’s three siblings. Their two caregivers were Main and her wife, Maria Tiglao.

Another woman apparently living in the home was the children’s biological mother, Tina Morse, who said she did not contribute any care to her children.

After Tiana’s death, all three women were charged with varying counts of child abuse.

As previously reported, Tiglao is no longer in custody. Her case is pending action until Main’s trial concludes, Tanner said.

Morse is spending two years in jail after she accepted a plea deal in December 2016 of two counts of child abuse.

A report filed in January by the Arizona Department of Child Safety and Gov. Doug Ducey shows all three women had contact with DCS prior to Tiana’s death.

In 2003, six reports alleging physical abuse to a child were filed with DCS against Main.

“The Department’s investigations, along with an investigation by the Pima County Sheriff’s Office, determined that the child’s injuries were being caused either by self-harm or by attempts to restrain the child,” the report states.

In 2009, a report was filed against both Main and Tiglao alleging neglect to three children.

“The report alleged concerns regarding the condition of the home and allegations that food and water were being restricted,” according to the report.

Each of the cases were closed due to the state’s findings that the allegations were unsubstantiated.

In 2014, a report to DCS accused Morse of neglecting Tiana and her siblings.

“The report alleged the children were not being adequately cared for and noted concerns regarding the condition of the home,” according to the report.

Morse and the children were not living with Main and Tiglao at the time of the reported allegation.

The DCS investigation into the allegations against Morse “assessed the children as safe in the care of their mother” and the case was closed.

Tiana died in the care of Main a little more than a year later.  After her death in November 2015, the other children were removed from the home and placed in licensed foster homes, the report states.

City plans to pull ballot question

Apex Motor Club plans to build a private race course for sports cars on property in northwest Maricopa. After Maricopa granted the permit, both the city and Apex were sued.

A Pinal County judge ruled Wednesday against the plaintiff in the last of two cases filed against the city and a company planning to construct a private racetrack in Maricopa.

Judge Robert Olson of the Pinal County Superior Court handed down the judgement, ruling against Rancho El Dorado resident Bonita Burks based on her argument having a weak legal standing.

Olson wrote, “The plaintiff lacks standing to challenge the issuance of the permit, since there is no evidence that the plaintiff will suffer any injury that is more substantial than suffered by the community at large.”

Burks’ complaint alleged the Apex Motor Club track would prohibit “full enjoyment” of her property due to potential noise, odor and traffic created by the track.

Her residence is more than five miles from the area in question, and is located on the opposing side of a major roadway, State Route 347, used by thousands of vehicles daily.

To that argument, Olson stated, “Plaintiff has not shown that any injury is more substantial than suffered by the community at large, let alone shown her injury is the same or similar to that suffered in the distinct area or neighborhood that is in close proximity to the proposed facility.”

In his opinion, Olson further acknowledged a sound study conducted by Private Motorsports Group, which, he said, “significantly challenges the plaintiff’s assertions.”

Burks did not respond to requests for comment.

Olson further rejected Burks’ arguments that an emergency ordinance (17-07), created by council to put referendums on the soonest possible ballot, was not an actual emergency.

“The Court finds that it is a matter of legislative discretion for the City Council to make its determination whether a qualifying circumstance warrants enactment of a provision with an emergency clause,” Olson wrote.

The ordinance was created soon after the first lawsuit was filed against the city in June.

Since it was ruled that Burks had no standing, the case is likely done with. However, on the chance an appeals court could waive his judgement, Olson offered a detailed, non-binding opinion on the subject of the permitting process as it relates to the New versus Old Zoning Codes. That opinion claims the city may have been wrong in granting the permit.

“The New Code did not reserve a right to PMG to obtain a use permit under the Old Code,” Olson wrote.

Olson claimed while the Old Zoning Code is a protected property right consistent with the Private Property Rights Protection Act, he found section 101.06(E) of the New Code “creates a particular exception to those rights, such as when seeking a use permit.”

Despite this opinion, city officials are considering this another victory. Earlier this week, Arizona Supreme Court denied an appeal by Maricopa Citizens Protecting Taxpayers, a group trying to force the permit decision to a referendum. The City is preparing to cancel the referendum.

“The Maricopa City Council has just taken action to rescind the Ballot Proposition on APEX,” Maricopa Mayor Christian Price wrote in an emailed statement.

Price further wrote that by canceling the referendum “we have saved the taxpayer $35,000,” and that the judgement solidifies “very big principles of good governance.”

Apex Vice President Matt Williams is elated with the decision and is happy the project can start to move forward.

“Our continued partnership with the City is coming to fruition,” Williams said. “From that perspective, we couldn’t be more excited and more thrilled.”

Williams and his colleagues are still determining what legal hurdles might still exists.

“Most of today has been focused on what happens next,” he said, “how quickly can we get started and what risk is still out there.”

Ground breaking most likely won’t occur until it is determined that all avenues for appeal have been exhausted by the opposition, in this case Burks.

Nonetheless, Williams looks forward to soon announcing plans for construction.

Apex Motor Club, owned by Private Motorsports Group, wants to open a private track in Maricopa.

The Arizona Supreme Court has rejected a case filing from an organization trying to force the city to hold a vote on a proposed race track in Maricopa. See order

The decision to deny Maricopa Citizens Protecting Taxpayers both a Petition for Review and an Emergency Stay was handed down Wednesday by Chief Justice Scott Bales.

The decision is the most recent in an arduous legal battle that was started when the organization attempted to force a referendum on the city’s issuing of a conditional use permit to Private Motorsports Group for the construction of a private racetrack called Apex Motor Club.

After the city denied the organization’s petition for referendum, MCPT challenged the city and Private Motorsports Group in court, winning an Aug. 9 judgement that forced the city to forward the petition to the Pinal County Recorder, starting the referendum process.

The city and PMG simultaneously filed an appeal. And, on Sept. 6, the Arizona Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s judgement, which then provoked Maricopa Citizens Protecting Taxpayers to file with the state Supreme Court the now-denied Petition for Review and Emergency Stay.

Though this is likely the last hurdle the city will face in this particular case, another case, filed by Rancho resident Bonita Burks, was heard Monday in Pinal County Superior Court and is awaiting judgement.

A decision on that case is expected by Sept. 14.

Teen Court members are sworn in after graduating training. Submitted photo

The inaugural hearing of the Maricopa Teen Court is slated to begin Aug. 24 inside the Maricopa/Stanfield Justice Courtroom.

It’s the first of many for the program, as Maricopa pilots the only teen court in the county. In early August, representatives from Pinal County’s juvenile probation department trained area teenagers who would soon take court positions as peer prosecutors, defense attorneys and victim advocates.

The teen court is billed as a diversion program for young alleged offenders.

Aug. 10, Pinal County Bureau Chief of Juvenile Justice Court and Appeals Tom McDermott swore in eight graduates from the training. Nya Villaverde, Sandra Nith, Steel Lewis, Carlos Aguilar, Dallas Hansen, Dylan Hill and Tayvon King are the first teens in the county to staff such a program.

Pinal County Juvenile Probation Supervisor Teresa Fuller said hearings will take place the fourth Thursday of every month from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.

“Volunteers who would like to serve on the teen court jury can attend any teen court hearing to volunteer,” Fuller said.

Jury volunteers must come dressed in court appropriate attire.

For more information contact fuller at tefuller@courts.az.gov or call (520) 866-7061.

Apex Motor Club wants to race personal sports cars at a private track in Maricopa, but legal battles with a political action committee and a resident have delayed development.

Parties involved in a lawsuit against the City of Maricopa and planned private racetrack Apex Motor Club offered their opinions Thursday about the recent court ruling against the City.

Representatives from Apex’s parent company, Private Motorsports Group, and the City both expressed frustration with the Pinal County Court ruling. Neither was overly discouraged.

Mayor Christian Price said the city is moving forward and will consider every legal option available.

“I think certainly we’re disappointed, but we’ll look at our options, including appeal,” Price said.

Wednesday, Judge Robert Olson ruled the City’s action in approving a conditional use permit for Apex was legislative and not administrative and, therefore, subject to referendum. If necessary, the election is in November and is mail-in, with the ballot issue labeled Prop. 418.

The city is taking a cautious approach, preparing for the worst but hoping for the best, Price said. Their plan is to simultaneously initiate and follow the appeal process while they also prepare for the election.

“We’re doing both at the same time so we’ll be in compliance either way,” Price said.

Price further expressed frustration with the ideological contradictions of the organization that filed the suit – Maricopa Citizens Protecting Taxpayers.

“It’s terribly ironic and frankly I think it’s a little deceptive to the Maricopa citizen and to the voting public,” Price said. “I think it’s unfortunate that they’re going to pretend that they’re protecting the taxpayers in one fashion, but then spend upwards of $30,000 [on an election] that the taxpayer, by law, has to pay for.”

Public support for the Apex project has been seen on social media despite the lawsuits. During public hearings prior to the City’s issuing of the questioned permit, very few individuals spoke against the project.

Apex Vice President Matt Williams said a judgment like this was always a possibility and they are prepared to take the appropriate legal actions that will ensure the success of the project. The City of Maricopa has shown APEX overwhelming support, he said, and this ruling has not swayed them in the slightest.

“The one thing we’re confident of is our support from the city,” Williams said. “And we are 100 percent committed to seeing this through in Maricopa.”

Wednesday’s court ruling won’t automatically direct the matter to a referendum. Instead, it only overturns the city’s denial of the plaintiff’s Petition for Referendum, ordering the City Clerk’s Office to forward the petitions to the Pinal County Recorder. A 5-percent “random sample” of the signatures will be verified, and, depending on the outcome, the county will decide whether the matter will move to the ballot.

A second lawsuit was recently filed against the City and PMG, this time by Maricopa resident Bonita Burks.

The lawsuit cites much of what is in the previous suit, though it further challenges an ordinance (17-07) created by the city in response to MCPT’s petition for referendum. If forced to a referendum, the ordinance says the matter must be directed to the soonest possible election. That ordinance puts the pending election on the Apex matter this year rather than November 2018.

Hearing dates have not yet been scheduled for the second suit.

Neither MCPT President Robert Rebich nor Burks has returned requests for comment.

Sisters Shell Abbott (left) and Eliah Abbott hold a photo of their brother Josiah Abbott, who died in 2014. Photo by Michelle Chance

It was a one-vehicle crash that took the lives of two teenagers Christmas night nearly three years ago.

Josiah Abbott, 15-years-old, and Morgan Martin, 14, were passengers inside a friend’s truck that rolled on Papago Road in Thunderbird Farms.

In early May, the driver of the vehicle pleaded guilty to two counts of negligent homicide. William Gay, 25, was sentenced to 2.5 years in the Department of Corrections for each count when he appeared in a Pinal County Superior courtroom on June 12.

According to the plea agreement supplied by the Pinal County Attorney’s Office, the two imprisonment terms will “run concurrently with each other.”

Josiah Abbott and Morgan Martin were victims of negligent homicide on Christmas night 2014. Submitted photos

Josiah’s older sister, Shell Abbott, said no amount of prison time would heal the pain caused by her brother’s death.

“The whole family had pretty much come to a consensus that some time or no time wouldn’t change the outcome of our hearts and how much we miss him and how much we think of Morgan,” Abbott said. “It wasn’t going to change that.”

Abbott said Josiah was charismatic and enjoyed making the women and girls in his life know they matter.

“Josiah had a way about making women feel special, and you could be 92 or you could be 3,” she said.

 The loss of Josiah and the emotional support he provided, she said, is comparable to the sensation of a phantom limb that has been amputated.

“You know it doesn’t exist, but in your brain it really does. You can still move it, but you can’t put weight on it because it’s not there,” Shell said.

William “Bubba” Gay. PCSO photo

Abbott said she is reminded every day she cannot lean on her brother. His young life was taken along with another’s from an accident caused by Gay — a friend of the family whom they refer to as “Bubba.”

“I think that’s the hardest part because Bubba will be able to get back out, and for him he’s not missing a limb,” Shell said.

Gay was a roommate in Abbott’s home at the time of Josiah and Morgan’s death. Abbott said she felt Gay did not take responsibility for the families’ losses. Additionally, she said Gay did not apologize to her. After a while, because of Gay’s behavior, she told him he needed to leave.

“Even through everything that Bubba’s done, we don’t hate him,” she said. “There is hurt, but I also understand that Bubba, whether he addresses it or not, is also hurting because Josiah was his friend – a very close friend.”

Gay taught Josiah about cars, Abbott said, and because Gay had a driver’s license and Josiah did not, the friends drove around together frequently.

Shell Abbott said her mother, Ranelle Abbott, requested in court that Gay receive counseling.

“I think that’s the only reason why him being in prison is actually a good thing,  … the fact that it will give him a lot of time to think,” Shell Abbott said.

Josiah Abbott romping with dog Filly. Photo by Rahannah Abbott

Even as a young child, Josiah was bright and had entrepreneurial tendencies, she said. At 4 years old, he began a small frog farm. In buckets, he placed tadpoles at varying points in development. By age 9, Josiah switched from frogs to chickens, and he made business cards to promote the eggs he sold.

Josiah would be 18-years-old now, and Shell Abbott said it saddens her to think of what he could have accomplished.

“There was no doubt in my mind that when he grew up he was going to own his own business and he was going to be able to do the job, whatever it was,” Abbott said. “Because of his charisma with people, there wasn’t a thing that he wouldn’t have been able to do in his life.”

The last Abbott family photo that included Josiah (top). Submitted photo

Miguel Figueroa Sr. (PCSO photo)

By Michelle Chance

The Maricopa man accused of killing his wife with a sword in December will not face the death penalty.

According to court documents, state prosecutors have until May 5 to file a notice of intent to seek the death penalty against Miguel Figueroa Sr.

However, Pinal County Attorney’s Office spokesman James Tanner said the state is not pursuing a capital case, and could not provide an explanation behind its decision because the case is still ongoing.

Inside a county courtroom Monday, 45-year-old Figueroa stood clothed in a jumpsuit and shackles alongside defense attorney Paula Cook.

Judge Kevin White approved Cook’s request to extend the date of a future hearing, which will determine Figueroa’s trial date.

Cook said she could not comment on the details of the case.

In December, Maricopa Police arrested Figueroa after he allegedly used a sword to kill his wife Olivia. That night, police found the victim’s body with multiple stab wounds in a desert area near the Heritage District.

Figueroa was later indicted by a grand jury on four felonies, including first-degree murder, kidnapping and two counts of aggravated assault.

Figueroa’s trial date will be decided in court on June 12 at 9 a.m.

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Maricopa/Stanfield Justice of the Peace Lyle Riggs takes paperwork from PD Officer Daniel Rauch during a court session. Photo by Michelle Chance

By Michelle Chance

Pinal County Justice Courts are addressing an on-going issue: People who fail to show up for court.

County statistics show among all eight justice courts in 2015, there were nearly 3,000 warrants issued that included failure to appear charges. In 2016, that number lowered by less than 3 percent to 2,838.

It’s a problem that doesn’t go away – and putting it off can cause real problems.

Maricopa/Stanfield Justice of the Peace Lyle Riggs said he believes many people don’t understand the negative impact ignoring a court date can have on their lives.

“All too sadly they find out there are real consequences, and then they’re really quite angry,” Riggs said.

Failing to appear has a snowball effect on a person’s legal issues and often include higher fines, arrest warrant issuance and revoked driving privileges. Read Judge Riggs’ opinion.

“You can take a relatively simple speeding ticket that might be a $200 fine and turn it into a $3,000 problem very quickly,” Riggs said.

The problems don’t stop there.

In criminal cases, if a defendant is picked up on a warrant for failing to appear, they will spend a night or more in jail. That can have lasting effects on a person’s ability to get and retain a job.

Judges complain the issue can be easily avoided. Shaun Babeu, justice of the peace in Apache Junction, said communication is key.

For example, the courts accept written requests for things like court date extensions – and although judges said they cannot guarantee all requests will be approved, dialogue with the court goes a long way.

“We are not looking to put people in jail. We are looking to get their case resolved, get them back on track and pointed in the right direction,” Babeu said.

New Automated System Means Shorter Grace Period

Historically, many courts have given people who fail to appear one to two weeks to come into court. However, a new automated system is changing that and consequences are being applied sooner.

Implemented statewide in December, the Arizona Judicial Automated Case System immediately notifies court staff when someone fails to appear. It can also send a notice to the Motor Vehicle Division to suspend licenses and registrations.

Casa Grande Justice of the Peace John Ellsworth said he has seen an increase in the number of motions coming into his court from people requesting their licenses be reinstated since the system was put in place.

“I believe that we are getting on to them a lot quicker because the automated system is a lot more efficient,” Ellsworth said.

The system is still being phased in at the Maricopa court. However, Riggs said the typical grace period people have to seek resolution after missing a court date will soon be shortened significantly. He said it is even more of an incentive for people to show up to court on time.

Open Court Provides Options

Until no-shows are no longer a problem, judges continue to give people an opportunity to get back on track.

In the Apache Junction court, the busiest in the county, Babeu has implemented warrant resolution days giving defendants an opportunity to resolve issues with their cases.

For the first time, the Maricopa/Stanfield court will hold a similar event on Saturday, May 20, from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

But opportunity for resolution is not a new practice in Maricopa. In fact, for the past two years Riggs has reserved 30 minutes every Friday morning for “open court” where people can speak to the judge for a variety of issues, including those who have missed a court date and have been issued a warrant.

In March, Riggs extended his open court to every weekday morning from 8:30 to 9. He said the open court is working.

On one Friday morning in late March, more than 20 people filled his courtroom. Civil traffic offenses dominated the cases brought to the judge. Riggs also heard from people who failed to appear at their original court date and were looking to resolve their cases.

He said he hopes to see more of them.

“My hope, truthfully, is that I get a flood of people coming in,” Riggs said.


This story appears in the May issue of InMaricopa.

Judge Lyle Riggs. Photo by Michelle Chance

By Judge Lyle Riggs

The number of people who do not appear for a court date or who do not comply with court orders is astonishing.

By not appearing in court or complying with court orders, people forfeit important rights, make a relatively simple matter become extremely difficult, and risk losing cars and going to jail. More jail time is served in misdemeanor cases for failing to appear in court or failing to comply with court orders than for the actual offense itself.

The Maricopa/Stanfield Justice Court and the Maricopa Municipal Court would like to see this change. These courts will be offering a special opportunity to get into compliance and have arrest warrants quashed to anyone who has missed a court date or who has failed to comply with a previous court order.

An opportunity to get into compliance

The courts will have a special court day on Saturday, May 20, from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Anyone with an outstanding arrest warrant from either court may come to court on this day. The courts will quash the warrant and enter new compliance orders. Anyone coming to court that day must be prepared to comply with court orders going forward, which may include making payments on fines, and completing court ordered counseling. The courts may not resolve a case completely that day, but they will provide a path to compliance and resolution of the case, and eliminate the risk of being arrested on an outstanding warrant.

On an on-going basis, the Maricopa/Stanfield Justice Court and Maricopa Municipal Court have walk-in court every morning at 8:30 a.m. Anyone who has failed to appear or is not in compliance with a prior court order may come to court any morning, appear before a judge, and get new orders. Anyone wanting to appear must be in the courthouse before 8:30 a.m. This is better than the alternatives.

Missing court or failing to comply with court orders is just not a good idea. It makes resolving any case more difficult. But, if you have, please take advantage of one of these opportunities to get back into compliance. Otherwise, things may go from bad to ugly very quickly.

The good of not appearing in court

None! There is nothing good about not appearing in court. It only makes matters worse.

A party that knows in advance that it cannot attend a scheduled court date may file, in person at the courthouse or by mail (not by fax), a written request for a new court date (a motion to continue). The motion to continue must explain why the party cannot attend. The courts are very likely to grant a first request. Subsequent requests are less likely to be granted, but for very good reasons could be granted as well.

These requests must be filed as soon as possible, but at least seven to 10 days before the scheduled appearance. A party is not excused from attending the scheduled date until it receives an order from the court giving a new date. That is why it is important to make the request as soon as possible.

In truly extreme cases, if a party is unable to attend because of something unforeseen, in other words, an emergency, the party must call the court as soon as possible, file a written request for a new date, and include proof of the emergency with the written request.

Even in this situation, a party is not automatically excused from attending a scheduled court date until it receives a new order with a new court date, but these requests are routinely granted the first time. A party that has not received a written order within two to three weeks of making a call must appear during walk-in court.

All parties have the option to engage an attorney to appear for the party. But, even then, the court has to agree to waive your presence. This is frequently done for initial and preliminary matters. Eventually, however, you will need to appear, unless there are some very unusual circumstances, to resolve the matter.

If you do not appear as ordered or comply with court orders, then this is where things start to get bad. The same is true of not complying with court orders, things just go from bad to ugly.

The bad of not appearing in court or not complying — civil traffic cases

Bad things happen, and quickly, when a party fails to appear in court, does not make a written request, and does not receive a written order from the court giving a new date to appear.

A party that fails to appear for a civil traffic violation or violations, and who did not pay the fine or attended driving school prior to that date, loses the right to a civil traffic hearing. Additionally, by law, a default judgment will be entered, fines and collection costs will be imposed, and the party’s driving privileges will be suspended.

The court does not do this immediately in case there was an emergency. But, this does typically happen within seven to ten days of the scheduled court date, but it can happen sooner. As explained, in the event of an emergency, contact the court as soon as possible.

When a default judgment is entered against a party, the party is also placed in Arizona’s Fines and Restitution Enforcement program (F.A.R.E.). (Anyone placed in this program will think it is anything but fair.) As part of being placed in FARE, $35 is added to the fine, plus 19% of this new balance. A $200 fine for speeding becomes a $303.45 fine. The statutory minimum fine of $992 for not having insurance becomes a $1,245 fine.

The state also has a program in place that allows courts to intercept state income tax refunds. There is an added cost to this. In other words, if the court intercepts $200, the fines will not be reduced by $200. First, there is a cost that is deducted and then the balance is applied to fine. Any remaining balance must still be paid and the person will have paid more than the original amount.

Finally, a default judgment prevents a party from conducting business with the Motor Vehicle Division (MVD). This affects the ability, for example, to register vehicles and transfer car titles.

Driving a car without current registration is another common civil traffic ticket. Then the process starts again. This is only the beginning of bad!

And if that is not bad enough … a default judgment for civil traffic violations also suspends a driver’s driving privileges. To get driving privileges reinstated, all or most of the now higher fine must be paid. Then the driver will need to go to MVD and pay a reinstatement fee to have driving privileges restored—not a quick15 to 20 minute event.

Driving with suspended driving privileges is a criminal offense, a class 1 misdemeanor. The common fine for this offense is about $350. And now, things start to get ugly!

The ugly of not appearing in court or not complying — civil traffic cases

Additionally, Arizona law requires law enforcement agencies to seize the vehicle being driven by someone whose driving privileges are suspended. While some law enforcement agencies do not always do this, some are very strict about enforcing this statute.

A driver could be left standing on the side of the road holding a brand new ticket while watching the driver’s vehicle being towed away. The driver can read and re-read the ticket while waiting for a ride. And it is still going to get worse.

A vehicle impounded because the driver’s privileges is generally held for 30 days. (A co-owner with valid driving privileges may be able to get the car out sooner for the first impoundment.) Otherwise the car will remain impounded for 30 days. To get it out, the driver must pay the towing and impound fees (several hundreds of dollars), present proof of insurance, current registration, and … reinstated driving privileges.

To get driving privileges reinstated, of course, the driver will have to pay the now higher original fine, go sit in an MVD office for an hour or more, and pay a reinstatement fee. And it is still getting worse.

The driver is now facing a criminal charge, which will mostly like result in having additional fines imposed and creating a criminal record. And, to resolve the criminal charge, the driver must appear in court. Ignoring this court date … well things are going to get real ugly.

The ugly of not appearing in court — criminal traffic & criminal cases

The court will issue an arrest warrant for anyone who misses a court date or fails to comply with court orders.

If arrested on the warrant, a person may spend one or more nights in jail. Generally, a person found guilty of a misdemeanor offense is ordered to pay a fine. With the exception of driving under the influence cases, a person found guilty of a misdemeanor is rarely ordered to serve jail time. Consequently, a person who fails to appear in court for a misdemeanor charge may be imposing a more severe sentence on him- or herself, than the court would impose.

Once arrested, the court may require a person to post bond as a condition of release in order to secure the person’s appearance for the next court date. The amount of the bond is often more than the amount of the fine that would be imposed.

If a secured bond is required, the person is required to pay a bondsman. What is paid to the bondsman is a cost that generally is not recovered. Alternatively, a person may post the full bond. This is in effect the same as posting a cash bond. If a cash bond is required, the person has to deposit the full amount with the court.

If the bond is not posted, a person may spend ten or more days in jail waiting for a court date. If a person is found not guilty, then the jail time was completely unnecessary. If the person, is found guilty, the state may agree to give the person credit for time served, but even then the sentence will be more severe than what it would have been had the person simply appeared in court as scheduled.

If bond is posted, the court may hold it until the matter is resolved. This could take four to six months. This means the court could hold a person’s money, an amount greater than the potential fine, for an extended period of time. This could interfere with vacation plans, paying rent, or paying other essential bills.

Spending time in jail to resolve misdemeanor charges or posting bond to get out of jail is an inconvenience that could be avoided by simply appearing in court as ordered. Still worse is spending time in jail after a sentence has been imposed in a criminal case.

As previously explained, the most common sentence for a person found guilty of a misdemeanor offense is imposition of a fine. If a person is not able to pay a fine immediately, the court can arrange a monthly payment plan. As long as the full monthly payment is made on time, no other consequences are imposed. But if a person misses a payment, the court may issue an arrest warrant and place the person in FARE.

As explained, in FARE the amounts go up. Also, the courts may intercept income tax refunds to pay these fines.

In some cases, the court may reduce the fine for time served. But, in many cases the fines are mandatory fines that have to be paid. In those cases serving jail time does nothing to reduce the fine. The person is merely serving time and still having to pay the same fines as before.

This is also true if the sentence required a person to complete counseling or some other non-monetary sanction. If the person does not comply, then an arrest warrant will be issued. Time served does not eliminate the requirement. It just becomes an added sentence and the person still must comply with the original requirements.

There is simply nothing good about missing a court date or failing to comply with court orders. It only makes a difficult situation become bad, or worse still ugly.

For anyone facing new charges please do not let things go from difficult to bad to ugly. Just come to court and follow the process.

For anyone who has already missed a court date or failed to comply with court please come to court. This will minimize the consequences and create a path to compliance. Please come in any morning before 8:30 a.m. or on Saturday, May 20, from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Lyle Riggs is justice of the peace for Maricopa/Stanfield Justice Court and magistrate of Maricopa Municipal Court.


This column appears in part in the May issue of InMaricopa.