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Erin Darr (PCSO)

Erin Darr has two weeks to get her supporters in court to speak on her behalf.

The Maricopa resident, already behind bars, was supposed to be sentenced Monday after pleading guilty to child abuse charges. Her attorney, Terry Sutton, requested a delay of 30 days, saying Darr had “a few people” who could not make the court date because of the holidays.

Judge Christopher O’Neil said the date had been on the calendar since September. The state, fully opposed to the postponement, asked for a compromise of no more than two weeks.

Darr earlier pled guilty to abuse of a child under 15 years old. The victim was in court with her grandmother and Victim Services.

Sutton said Darr “wants the court to understand who she was before this happened… If we were to go forward today, I don’t think that’s going to come across very clear to the court as to the type of person Ms. Darr truly is.”

He said family members and non-family members from the community want to speak on her behalf so Darr can have her “fair shot” in sentencing. She is being held without bond.

O’Neil expressed impatience with the request.

“I have the presentence report. I also do have the defendant’s sentencing memorandum, multiple character letters for sentencing,” he said. “I’ve spent hours reviewing the materials we’re today hearing. So I don’t, frankly, have a concern that I don’t have adequate information to conduct a fair hearing. Quite the contrary.”

He agreed there had been substantial time to prepare for the hearing. But he said he still preferred to make sure all parties were heard. O’Neill insisted Sutton choose a date in December.

“I’m not open to continuing it to January,” he said.

The judge set the new sentencing hearing for Dec. 18 at 3 p.m.

“If these individuals who were not available today continue not to be available at that time… we will go forward,” O’Neil said.

Machelle Hobson aka Hackney (PCSO photo)

The possibility of getting Maricopa’s so-called “YouTube Mom” into a courtroom is as remote as ever after a Rule 11 hearing Tuesday.

Machelle Hobson, 48, was indicted in March on charges of child abuse and kidnapping. The Hobson/Hackney family ran a profitable YouTube channel called “Fantastic Adventures” that featured mostly the younger children in family-friendly videos.

However, allegations surfaced this year that Hobson’s seven adopted children were being forced to appear in the videos under threat of physical violence, being pepper sprayed, having food and water withheld and being locked in a closet. Hobson now faces 22 charges in the case.

After Hobson’s arrest, she was hospitalized, deemed not competent to stand trial by a psychiatrist and was released from custody. Ever since, she has received waivers allowing her not to make physical appearances in court.

Judge Lawrence Wharton in Pinal County Superior Court’s Rule 11 court said clinical psychologist Celia Drake “is now asking that an assessment be done to determine the most appropriate location for the restoration process to be continued.”

The Rule 11 court oversees the process of returning an incompetent defendant to competency.

Pushing for progress in the next 60 days, Wharton sought a strategy that would clear medical obstacles in the restoration process. When he was on the verge of turning the decision over to Drake, defense attorney Joshua Wallace had other ideas.

“Dr. Drake probably isn’t the most appropriate person to conduct these evaluations that she wants done,” Wallace said. “She does say that perhaps another medical psychiatric evaluation needs to be completed. She’s not a psychiatrist or a medical doctor.”

That leaves the court searching for suitable individual or location to place Hobson for evaluation. Wharton set a date of Jan. 8 to review the restoration of competency, but he wants work done in the meantime.

“I don’t want 60 days to slide by and not make a whole lot of progress.”

Arthur Eric Magana (PCSO photo)

The U.S. Supreme Court is deciding whether a notorious “D.C. sniper” should be re-sentenced in the fallout of a series of high-court rulings that are also impacting a Maricopa-area murder.

The justices took up the argument of Lee Boyd Malvo, now 34, who was 17 in 2002 when he and John Allen Muhammed murdered 10 people in a series of sniper attacks around Washington, D.C. In the past decade, starting with the historic Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court has ruled that sentencing juveniles to life without parole is a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Malvo case not only asks if Miller can be applied retroactively but also questions mandatory sentencing schemes for juvenile offenders without considering individual circumstances.

During arguments in October, Justice Elena Kagan said Miller comes down to two words, “youth matters.”

Arthur Eric Magaña of Maricopa was only 16 years old in 2016 when he and Gustavo Olivo were indicted for the shooting death of 20-year-old Wyatt Miller in an unincorporated area south of Maricopa.

Olivo, who was 17 at the time of the murder, pled guilty a year ago and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Magaña was found guilty by a jury and has been awaiting sentencing for the past 12 months.

Monday, Magaña was before Judge Kevin White for a status review while the judge is preparing for guidance from the upper courts.

The sides must also sort out what White called “clerical-type mistakes” on the part of the defense, which failed to label a filing ex parte. Prosecuting attorney Patrick Johnson said as soon as the correct filings are made, the state intends to file an objection.

He further said the state would object to any motion to request the personal records of the victims.

Johnson said a Supreme Court decision would likely come down in April or May. White predicted having a subsequent sentencing on Magaña sometime in June.

In the meantime, a date for the next hearing was set for Dec. 18.

County attorney says opioid makers 'lining their pockets'

Pinal County is taking pharmaceutical manufacturers, pharmacies and doctors to court over addiction and overdoses.

There have been 308 reported opioid overdoses in Pinal County in the past two and a half years.

Pinal County is taking on big pharmaceutical companies over opioid addiction. The law firms of Fennemore Craig and Theodora Oringher filed suit for the county in Superior Court Sept. 25.

“We know how many pills were forced into our county,” County Attorney Kent Volkmer said. “Every pill is tracked by the federal government. Needless to say, it falls far outside of appropriate norms.”

In suing many large drug manufacturers and all pharmacies that do business in Pinal County, Volkmer said his office is not as interested in getting a monetary award from the case as it is the opportunity to litigate it in the public forum.

Among the 50 defendants named in Pinal County vs. Actavis LLC, et al. are American Drug Company, Costco, Walgreens, Osco Drug, Walmart, Bashas’, Johnson & Johnson, Mallinckrodt LLC, Safeway, Par Pharmaceuticals, Smith’s Food & Drug, Sun Life Family Health Center and Watson Laboratories. The suit also names eight members of the Sackler family, who Bloomberg estimates to be worth $13 billion collectively.

By filing suit at the county level rather than joining the many federal-level lawsuits, Volkmer said, there is a better chance of getting the evidence known. Ongoing suits against the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, brought by states and other levels of government, will likely be filed into a national settlement. At the federal level, a U.S. bankruptcy judge paused those lawsuits against Purdue Pharma in October.

But Purdue and the Sacklers are only part of the Pinal County suit.

“We are prepared to litigate it. We want a jury to hear what they did and to determine a remedy,” Volkmer said. “We’re confident they acted badly. We want the public to know. The best way to get that is to try the case.”

The complaint does not cite a number for the monetary damages the county is seeking from the 50 defendants named. It seeks “to recover all measure of damages permissible under the statutes identified herein and under common law, in an amount to be proven at trial.”

“We’re confident they acted badly. We want the public to know. The best way to get that is to try the case.” – County Attorney Kent Volkmer

Volkmer said opioid addiction has cost the county manpower in law enforcement and health. And it is removing once-productive people from the economy because they can no longer work, shrinking the tax base that helps pay for the services impacted by opioid addiction.

Patients who could no longer afford an opioid prescription sometimes turned to heroin, causing more impact on law enforcement, the medical examiner’s office and county health resources. “And all of this cost was foisted on the county,” Volkmer said.

“Janssen fully recognizes the opioid crisis that exists in this country. But one thing is clear: Janssen’s medications did not cause or contribute to that crisis.” – Janssen Pharmaceuticals

The county complaint opens with the statement, “Opiates are killing people every day in this country and Arizonans have not been spared. Each of the [d]efendants in this action engaged in an industry-wide effort to downplay the dangerous and deadly potential effects of the misuse of prescription opioids. The opioid epidemic has hit every community in Arizona hard, including Pinal County.”

One of the defendants, Beverly Sackler, died Oct. 15 at the age of 95. Purdue filed for bankruptcy in September.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert Drain gave Purdue Pharma, the Sacklers and the government entities suing them until Nov. 6 to reach a disclosure plan that would show how much the company earned from OxyContin sales.

Fennemore Craig was hired by Pinal County this summer specifically for this case against Big Pharma. Its attorneys claimed the actions of opioid manufacturers were “a sophisticated, manipulative scheme” particularly designed to be effective in places like Pinal County because it “is home to a multitude of economically and medically vulnerable populations that defendants knew were uniquely predisposed to opioid addiction, including the elderly.”

Big Pharma companies, Volkmer said, are “lining their pockets” as a result of front-end and back-end domination of a field they created. Some of the same companies that make the opioids also make the overdose antidote naloxone, he said.

Those companies include Hospira (acquired by Pfizer) and Mylan, both named in the suit, which describes both as “a top manufacturer of fentanyl, oxycodone, morphine and codeine in Pinal County.” Mylan is further accused of withholding ingredients to treat “opioid-use disorder and opioid addiction” from its competitors.

Pinal County also accuses Janssen Pharmaceuticals and its parent company, Johnson & Johnson, of pushing “bogus research” to promote opioids.

It is similar to claims made in other cases against Janssen in Oklahoma and Ohio, where Janssen denied wrongdoing, stating in court papers: “Janssen fully recognizes the opioid crisis that exists in this country. But one thing is clear: Janssen’s medications did not cause or contribute to that crisis… Janssen will prove that its marketing was and remains supported by scientific medical evidence, offered in good-faith and without a scintilla of fraudulent intent.”

In the mid- to late-1990s, physicians started classifying pain as a “fifth vital sign.” That was allegedly pushed by the American Pain Society and resulted in pharmaceutical companies putting more attention on creating and marketing pain medication. Recent lawsuits from 23 states, as well as Pinal County’s suit, characterize the pharmaceutical companies as “pushing” drugs and turning up the heat on doctors to prescribe more.

Prescribed opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone became commonplace.

“They said opioids addressed and alleviated pain. It was a miracle cure, supposedly,” Volkmer said.

He said, despite a lack of public research, opioids were marketed as addiction-free. Doctors who did not prescribe opioids to help their patients overcome perpetual pain virtually were “accused of malpractice.”

In Massachusetts’ claim against the Sacklers, they were accused of hiring hundreds more sales representatives to pressure doctors. “They directed reps to encourage doctors to prescribe more of the highest doses of opioids. They studied unlawful tactics to keep patients on opioids longer and then ordered staff to use them,” the Massachusetts’ complaint reads.

After the medical community started to acknowledge people were becoming addicted around 2010, the number of prescriptions began to decrease but the amount prescribed increased.

Harinder Takyar is the only physician named in the suit while other local doctors are grouped as so-called “John Does.” Takyar was a Florence-based doctor who was charged with 42 counts of prescribing opioids to his patients without medical need in 2014.

Gov. Doug Ducey declared a statewide emergency in 2017 after a health report found 790 Arizonans died of opioid overdoses the previous year. State tracking showed 431 million opioid pills were prescribed in 2016, “enough for every Arizonan to have a 2.5-week supply.”

Since the emergency declaration, between June 15, 2017, and Oct. 10, 2019, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 3,633 deaths that were suspected of being opioid overdoses.

Volkmer said while the Pinal case is “very, very similar to Big Tobacco,” immediacy is the difference.

“If you smoke, in 20 or 30 years, you could get cancer,” he said. “Opioids have an immediate impact. It renders people unable to work. If one of my employees goes outside for a smoke break, they can come back to work. If they go out to pop a Percocet, they won’t be able to do that.”

Volkmer said he is “fairly optimistic” the case can be in court in 18-24 months.


This story appears in the the November issue of InMaricopa.

Marcos Martinez. (PCSO photo)

Marcos Jerrell Martinez, accused of murdering his grandmother in Maricopa, may be moving toward a resolution of the case.

Martinez has been under the eye of Pinal County Superior Court Judge Lawrence Wharton in Mental Health Court since he was found not competent to stand trial but has also at times been before Judge Jason Holmberg and three other judges in regular criminal court while being restored to competency. Wednesday, defense attorney Jaime Ramirez said a pretrial hearing set for December could bring a change of plea or at least a decision on seeking a jury trial or a bench trial.

Martinez was arrested in 2018 in Chandler on charges of killing Vicky Ten Hoven, 62, in her house in Rancho El Dorado. Cause of death was determined to be blunt-force trauma, though she was also stabbed several times.

He was initially found incompetent to stand trial and spent more than a year working with physicians to be restored to competency. He faces a single charge of first-degree murder.

Prosecutor William Wallace asked Wharton to allow attorney Kathryn Fuller an endorsement to represent next of kin as a victims advocate in the case. Wharton complied but shot down the notion of allowing Fuller to participate by phone.

The next court appearance for Martinez was set for Dec. 18.

Erin Darr (PCSO)

Changing her plea to guilty, a Maricopa mom is awaiting sentencing on two charges of child abuse.

Erin Darr, 36, was taken back into custody by Pinal County Sheriff’s Office Sept. 30 after reaching a plea agreement. She is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 4 in Superior Court.

Darr was arrested in December. She was originally charged with 10 counts of abuse.

The agreement lets her plead guilty to pushing a victim down the stairs, which is a charge of child abuse under circumstances “likely to produce death or serious injury,” a class 3 felony. Darr also pled guilty to forcing a victim to “eat vomit,” a class 4 felony.

The class 3 felony by law has a sentencing range of 2.5 to seven years, which can change under exceptional circumstances, with a presumptive sentence of 3.5 years. Per the plea agreement, Darr will serve a prison sentence of 3.5 to 7.5 years. The court will make the specific sentence next month.

The class 4 felony has a sentence of one to three years in the criminal code, with a presumptive sentence of 2.5 years. The agreement allows her lifetime supervised probation, during which she can have no contact with the victim. She must also have written permission from the probation department to have any contact with children under the age of 18.

If she rejects probation, the agreement states she will be sentenced to 3.75 years to run consecutively after the other sentence.

Under the terms of the agreement, Darr must pay restitution to all named victims for “all economic loss (including medical and counseling fees), not to exceed $350,000.” There are additional fines of $5,000 and $500.

She must also submit to a DNA test as a special condition.

In exchange for her guilty pleas, the state agrees to drop all other charges, all of which were class 3 and class 4 felony charges of child abuse. Judge Christopher O’Neil has the option of rejecting the plea deal.

Talks about prosecution philosophy, plea deals, marijuana and the challenges of the office

Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer talks about his time in office. Photo by Kyle Norby

Kent Volkmer, a Republican, was elected Pinal County Attorney in 2016 after several years in private practice. He sat down with InMaricopa to talk about criminal justice and some of the issues his office is tackling.

What is a day in the life of the county attorney?
A lot of meetings, as opposed to being in the courtroom every day. I would say any given day, probably three or four different meetings with various entities, various agencies. Typically, Monday is my most consistent day getting kind of caught up on stuff that happened on the weekend. On every Monday afternoon for about two hours, I meet with my chief of criminal, my chief deputy, my chief of staff as well as my head of civil, and we talk about kind of issues that are upcoming issues and preparing for what’s going on.

You rarely do appear in court. How many attorneys does your office have?
I believe we have 45 current attorneys.

In what circumstances do you go to court?
Honestly, there’s very, very few reasons. I actually am handling a trial coming up soon simply because it was a very unique situation. I felt comfortable handling the matter and didn’t want to put somebody else in that position just because of the unique circumstances surrounding it. Otherwise, it’s normally just saying, ‘Hi,’ to people. Actually, formally appearing on the record, I can’t tell the last time that happened.

Pinal County General Fund distribution

A giant chunk of the county budget (63 percent) goes to law enforcement, courts and prosecutions. What are your office’s costs?
Personnel. Ninety percent is just people.

What are your opportunities for keeping costs down?
There are some. Oh, yes, we absolutely do have grants. We have the JAG Byrne grant [Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant], which is federal prosecution grant. We have a number of other grants that come forward. Actually, in this current budget cycle here, I was able to request, and our Board of Supervisors gave me, a grant coordinator, so we’re actually going to have a dedicated person in our office that’s looking at those costs to see if there are any grants available. There are a number of federal grants. A lot of time when you do a pilot program or you do programs that other people aren’t doing, the government’s willing to give you those resources to get kick-started. That’s kind of how we kick-started our diversion program. The state gave us about $400,000 to really offset the costs to the taxpayer and then try to make the program sustainable.

How is the Diversion Program working?
I’m thrilled with it. About 2.5 percent of our felony cases are diverted and a bunch of our misdemeanor cases. So about 600, 650 cases in a given year are diverted. What that means is people that we identify as not being a danger to society but made a dumb decision, a poor decision, are given the opportunity to complete consequences, do a risk assessment, hopefully fix whatever caused them to make that bad decision in the first place, and then the charges are ultimately dismissed, so there’s no conviction on their record.

What are you enjoying most about your job so far?
That’s a good question. I think the ability that it gives me to really effect change in our community. There are a lot of different things I’ve been able to do, one of the things I’m very proud of is, under Arizona law when we’ve talked about marijuana specifically, prosecutors are given the opportunity to charge it either as a felony or as a misdemeanor. It’s sort of our decision. What I discovered is my office is making these decisions often without the input of law enforcement, without the input of the people who are on the ground interacting with these people. One of the things that we did is we flipped that and we allow the officer at the scene to make the initial decision and then we sort of review it on the back side. What we’ve discovered is that’s reduced about 750 felony charging of marijuana year-over-year. The other thing that does is significantly reduces the bookings at the jail, which is a huge cost savings to everyone. Just those types of things where we get to sit back and ask, ‘What’s the right thing to do? What’s the best thing for our community? What’s the safest thing we can do?’ This job gives me that opportunity. It’s a powerful position, but it’s also a humbling position and I love it.

Speaking of marijuana, if recreational marijuana were legalized in the state, how would that impact your office?
At the felony level, it would not have nearly the full impact. I have not had the opportunity to review all of the proposal, but I do know that they limit the amount of personal possession to one ounce, which I do like. Two and a half ounces is about a hundred joints. To say that’s personal possession has always kind of struck me as a little bit odd. So, they’ve reduced that number. There’s still going to be a gap between 18 and 21; I’m not sure how they want to treat that. There’s also still going to be above that threshold, how they’re going to handle it. Most of the time, when we’re prosecuting at the felony level, it’s going to be the sale amounts; it’s going to be the huge amounts. Depending on how that law is actually written, whether it’s passed, it’ll have some impact but not the impact it would have had, say, three or four years ago.

What is your philosophy when it comes to plea deals in cases of violent felonies?
Pleas are a necessary evil. About 98 percent of our cases resolve via plea. And that’s for a number of reasons, one of which is, frankly, the financial aspect of it. You mentioned most of our county budget goes to law enforcement. Our budget’s about $12 million of taxpayer dollars that we receive. If we were to try many more cases, that number would necessarily have to increase correspondingly. It’s not necessarily a dollar-for-dollar increase, but it would have to go up. So we do have to use those pleas. I’m much more comfortable using them in the non-violent cases. It’s the violent ones that are much more difficult, because part of my obligation is to make sure that I keep this community safe. I’m not going to say we don’t offer pleas, but typically on those murder cases, those real high-end cases, all of those pleas are normally staffed. That means the attorney assigned has reviewed it along with their supervisor and then usually my chief deputy and myself and the team to look at those and figure out what an appropriate resolution is.

In the violent cases, would it that state feels there’s a vulnerability in the case more than the cost?
It’s not a vulnerability in the case; it’s typically a vulnerability to the community. The law gives us the ability to put people away for a really long time. The issue is if someone has a violent propensity and they commit this offense, the law says, ‘Well, presumptive sentence, for example, is 10.5 years.’ And we say, ‘We’re going to give you 3.5 years.’ My concern is if that person gets out in 3.5 years and then commits another violent offense, how do I look that victim in the face and say, ‘Yeah, I know the law told me this is what I was supposed to do, but it was really expensive, so I put finances above your safety.’ Sometimes it does have to do with vulnerability of cases, but typically it’s what do we really need to do to make sure our community’s safe, and what does this person really need? Is this somebody who, again, maybe has a drug addiction, maybe has some violent tendencies? Is this somebody that we can put in prison and have them come out on probation to give what they need to return to our community, or is this somebody that we have to put away because we can trust them to follow our societal laws to keep us safe?

What have you accomplished so far and what would you like to accomplish before the end of this term?
Seems like I should know the answer to that question. I think the things that we’ve done have really been incremental. I don’t know that there’s been a lot of wide-sweeping, giant modifications that we’ve done. One of the things we’ve done is we’ve tried to streamline the process. I think my greatest accomplishment is, I believe, that my office is looking at each case as an individual case. We’re not looking at it as numbers. We’re not looking at it as paperwork, but these are humans that we’re trying to make an individualized decision on, to do what’s best not only for that person but for the community as a whole. That’s a mindset. It really is, because it’s easy to say, ‘No, no, this is what we’re going to do, and we can just run through these cases very quickly.’ It takes more time, it takes more willpower, it takes more emotional investment to look at an individual case and say, ‘Yeah, I know that these are both burglaries, but we need to treat these different because of the impact on the community, because of the impact on the victim, because the actual sort of criminal mindset that’s involved.’ I think my office is doing an exceptional job of carrying out that mission.

Did you have anything that you’d specifically like to accomplish by the end of this term?
I don’t know that I do. Our job is to see justice done. It’s not to gain convictions. It’s not to have a trial rate or put so many people in prison or put so many people on probation. Our job is to do everything we can to keep this community safe. Our community, we’re safer than any of the other big communities. The likelihood of one of our residents being victimized is about half the rate it is if you live in Maricopa County. It 2.5 times more likely in Pima County to be victimized. We’re safer than Yavapai County and Prescott, we’re safer than Yuma, we’re safer than all the other counties. My job is to make sure we keep that train headed in the right direction.

What has been your biggest challenge as county attorney?
The biggest challenge, I think, is finding the balance between what the law says we should do and what individualized justice is and figuring out what is truly in the best interest of our community. I’ll give you a perfect example. If you have two prior felonies and you’re caught selling drugs, let’s say a very small amount in hand-to-hand sales. You had half a gram, which is half an M&M, and you sell half of that amount to your friend for just the amount you paid for it. That’s a Class 2 felony. Under our laws, if you have those two prior felonies you should be serving 15.75 years in prison. I think most people would say 15.75 years is more than necessary. It’s sort of that ‘The strictest justice is the greatest injustice.’ But the question is, how far do you pull that back? What’s the appropriate amount? What’s really fair and just under those circumstances? Because, again, if somebody’s harmed or that person gets high and drives in a vehicle and kills somebody, it’s really hard to look those victims in the eye and say, ‘Well, I’m sorry, I took a chance and I was wrong.’ Maybe letting that person on probation isn’t right, but there’s got to be a balance, and I’m really trying to figure out what that balance is, what the community wants. I’m a representative of the community; I’ve been elected by the community to represent the will of the community. We are a representative democracy; we are a republic. We are not mob rule. So there is this delicate balance of trying to figure out what is really the thing that we should be doing for our community. What should we be doing that is in the interest of all the residents that are here? And then you also have that second sort of balance. What are other counties doing? Because we have a few different cities now that are sharing borders. We have Apache Junction that is on both sides. We have Queen Creek that’s on us both sides. We have kind of Oracle/Oro Valley/Catalina area there. We also have Marana who’s now growing. Depending on what side of the street you’re on should not make a huge difference in what your consequences are. You shouldn’t get probation if you’re on one side and prison on the other. That becomes justice by geography. That’s just as fundamentally flawed.


This story appears in part in the September issue of InMaricopa.

Guilty of murder in Careccia deaths

Jose Valenzuela is led away after sentencing Monday. Photo by Kyle Norby

 

Family and friends of Tina and Michael Careccia packed the pews of Judge Christopher O’Neil’s fourth-floor courtroom for the sentencing of Jose Valenzuela, who had pled guilty to double murder in their 2015 shooting deaths.

Many of them came forward to tell the judge how the murders had traumatized their lives and to ask him for the full penalty available.

In the end, O’Neil did so, calling the crime “an unspeakable evil.” He sentenced Valenzuela to the maximum allowed in the plea deal brokered by his attorneys and the special prosecutor – natural life for the first-degree murder of Tina Careccia and, consecutively, 25 years for the second-degree murder of Michael Careccia.

“That this defendant will not receive the sentence of death is a great and undeserved mercy,” O’Neil said.

Special Prosecutor Gary Husk said the plea agreement sufficiently punished Valenzuela and protected the community, “and I was fortunate to have the support of the family in making that decision.”

“Death penalty cases these days, unfortunately, can result in extensive delays. Even if you do get a conviction and a penalty of a death sentence imposed by the court, it can take decades, literally, before that is imposed,” Husk said. “I think the families in this particular case were committed to trying to bring some resolution to this.

“It has already been over four years to bring this case to this stage. We felt that it was appropriate to resolve it in this fashion and not run the risk of going to trial, and maybe not getting it and if you do get it run the risk of it being overturned 20 years later when you don’t have evidence and you don’t have witnesses any longer.”

Husk was appointed to prosecute the case by Navajo County after Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer recused his office from involvement. As a private attorney before being elected in 2016, Volkmer represented the legal rights of Valenzuela’s young son in the early days of the case.

Before the court proceedings Monday afternoon in Pinal County Superior Court, the judge had read every letter, PowerPoint and memorandum given to him from both sides of the case. Several of those speaking to the court said there was no leniency and no forgiveness for Valenzuela’s actions.

Valenzuela, too, read a brief statement, saying he was sorry for all the families, “including my own.”

Despite that, O’Neil said the court “does not find any believable remorse.”

Speaking earnestly and emotionally, O’Neil said while punishment should fit the crime, there is no punishment that could equal the loss of two lives.

“Human life is a sacred and priceless gift. It possesses a value that is beyond measure. It cannot be measured, not in dollars, not in years, not even in the stories and the tears of those left behind. To define and destroy something so precious and so irreplaceable as a human life and all that it entails, all of its value that transcends calculation without just cause, to rob the world of the inestimable value of a mother, father, sibling, child, aunt, uncle, friend is an unspeakable evil.” – Judge Christopher O’Neil

“She was my best friend,” Tina’s daughter Blake Perry told the court. “They never got to meet their first grandchild.”

“My life will truly never be the same,” said Luke Careccia, Michael’s son, who said his father “made me the man I am today.”

The court heard from siblings and other relatives. A social worker read a letter from Michael’s mother. Those who gave victim statements described the brutal ordeal of the past four years, the ongoing panic attacks and even post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Much of the family left the courtroom when defense attorney Bobbi Falduto made a case for mitigating factors. Falduto said Valenzuela asked her not to have his family members speak in court.

“He really was a good person,” Falduto said. “It wasn’t just their family. Mike, Tina and Jose, they were all good parents. This has impacted his family as well.”

The judge was not moved.

“The aggravating circumstances in this case so desperately outweigh any and all mitigation,” O’Neil said.

The Careccias died the night of Father’s Day 2015 or in the early morning after. Valenzuela had been at a party at the Careccia home that evening before returning to his parents’ home where he lived a couple blocks away on Papago Road. The Careccias later apparently drove to his residence.

Valenzuela claimed they all did drugs together, including methamphetamine. He and Michael Careccia got into an argument, and Valenzuela shot him. He then reportedly held down Tina Careccia and shot her as she pled for her life. Afterward, he borrowed a backhoe and buried the bodies in his backyard just steps from his door.

The Careccias were missing for 11 days as the residents of Hidden Valley and Maricopa searched the area. Pinal County Sheriff’s Office had Valenzuela as a person of interest and used his statements to eventually uncover the bodies early the morning of July 2.

“His actions were calculated, callous, deliberate and depraved; that he committed these murders in the presence of a child, and not only a child but his own son,” Judge O’Neil said. “That he lied, misled law enforcement officers, concealed and destroyed evidence, including the fact that this concealment further desecrated the very bodies of the lives he destroyed of two persons he claims to have called friends.”

Stay with InMaricopa for more coverage.

 

Erin Darr (PCSO)

The judge set a trial date for a Maricopa woman charged with two counts of child abuse.

Erin Darr, 36, was arrested last year after children made accusations of physical abuse against her, one of the most egregious described as forcing an 11-year-old child to eat her own vomit after she became sick on spoiled food. Darr initially was indicted in December on 10 counts of abuse.

She now faces two aggravated counts of abuse of a child then the victim was 15 or younger, making it fall under the Dangerous Crimes Against Children statute.

At a change-of-plea hearing Monday in Superior Court, defense attorney Terry Sutton told Judge Christopher O’Neil that Darr is prepared to go forward with a trial. That was set for Nov. 5 at 9 a.m. and scheduled for up to six days in front of a 12-member jury.

During her arrest, Maricopa Police described accusations of pulling out a child’s hair, injuring the child’s hands and feet and hitting the child with a phone, causing a bleeding wound she then attempted to fix with Super Glue. Exams also allegedly found prior injuries and medical issues that had not been treated by medical professionals.

The allegations came to light after a classmate noted a bruise on the child at school.

Darr has denied all accusations. She is free on a $50,000 bond.

In other court records, husband Chad Darr of North Dakota petitioned for legal separation with children this spring.

Machelle Hobson aka Hackney (PCSO photo)

With the defendant not in the courtroom, the case against a Maricopa mother accused of abusing her children for social media attention continues in Superior Court.

Joshua Wallace, one of the attorneys for Machelle Hobson (aka Hackney), said a psychiatric exam showed she was not competent for trial and there is “no point in engaging a restoration service.”

Hobson, 48, and her family ran the now-deactivated YouTube channel “Fantastic Adventures,” which featured the children going through superhero training and visiting fantasy lands through special effects from their Villages home. The lucrative channel had more than 200 million video views and earned the family $10,000 to $30,000 per month.

Seven of her 10 children are adopted. Prosecutors say Hobson abused the children to get them to perform, allegedly depriving them of food and water, locking them in closets and using pepper spray. Hobson was indicted on 17 counts of child abuse and five counts of kidnapping.

She was released from jail in June, apparently based on her health condition. Maricopa Police initially also arrested her two oldest sons, but the Pinal County Attorney’s Office declined to press charges.

Wednesday, Wallace filed the report from a mental-health exam required by Rule 11. He said it would be months before Hobson could be prepared. The state asked for additional time to view the report.

Judge Delia Neal set a hearing for Aug. 28, allowing attorneys to participate telephonically. As Hobson has at least three other attorneys of record, Neal said finding court dates that fit everyone’s schedules was like “herding cats.”

Kenneth Lewis (PCSO)

A man shot by a resident after being suspected of breaking into three Cobblestone Farms homes is undergoing a mental exam.

Kenneth Lewis, 43, had an order for a mental health expert examination (Rule 11) issued in June. Friday, his counsel was given time by Judge Jason Holmberg for the exam review, with a new hearing set for August. Lewis is free on a $5,000 bond.

In what became a community incident on Celtic Lane April 4, Lewis was tackled by a neighbor in the driveway of a home where he had just been shot. Police arrived and cuffed him before he was treated for his injury.

Lewis allegedly had entered Erik Keen’s home on Garden Lane and an empty home on Celtic Lane before trespassing at a third home, also on Celtic. There, he was shot in the shoulder by the 68-year-old resident and then was tackled by Keen in the driveway. Residents involved in the incident told responding police officers Lewis had been making statements that someone was following him or trying to harm him.

A Rule 11 screening determined there were grounds for a full mental examination. By state law, the court may request a defendant “be examined to determine the defendant’s competency to stand trial, to enter a plea or to assist the defendant’s attorney.”

Lewis is facing charges of criminal damage, trespassing and burglary.

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

A man accused of killing his grandmother may have an insanity option.

Marcos Jarrell Martinez, 23, is charged with the 2018 first-degree murder of Vicky Ten Hoven, 62. Martinez appeared in court Friday morning in a brown jumpsuit and shackles, his long hair loose down his back.

Judge Jason Holmberg accepted Dr. Joel Parker as an independent expert in the possibility of a “guilty but insane” stance. Parker is a forensic psychiatrist.

Earlier in the case, Judge Lawrence Wharton found Martinez competent to stand trial based on an Arizona State Hospital evaluation, but the Parker examination would be making a judgment on the defendant’s mental state at the time of Ten Hoven’s murder.

Last week, Holmberg signed an order for additional defense funds for the case because of the volume of records involved.

Martinez has a history of mental-health issues. A year before his grandmother’s murder, Martinez had been “involuntarily committed” at behavioral health and substance abuse treatment facility in Mesa.

According to Arizona law, “A person may be found guilty except insane if at the time of the commission of the criminal act the person was afflicted with a mental disease or defect of such severity that the person did not know the criminal act was wrong… A guilty except insane verdict is not a criminal conviction for sentencing enhancement purposes.”

Jan. 18, 2018, Ten Hoven’s husband found her deceased in a pool of blood on their kitchen floor. Though she had been stabbed several times, the cause of death was determined to be blunt-force trauma.

Martinez’s next hearing was set for September.

Glenn Morrison, constable for the local justice court, is among six constables suing Pinal County.

Constables are fighting with Pinal County over salaries and have now filed a lawsuit.

Claiming the Board of Supervisors did not follow the law when it set constable salaries in 2018, the suit, filed June 14, seeks restoration of lost income. At issue is the decrease in salary of three of the constable positions, “even though the gross workload was increasing.”

State statute requires supervisors to set salaries at a regular June meeting prior to the January commencement of term. The constables claim the board violated the law by not setting their salaries until August 2018, as a consent-agenda item after the Primary Election.

“We realized it had not been done for the new districts, so processed it at the August Board meeting,” County Manager Greg Stanley said. “The agenda was posted prior to the Primary Election, and Board approved it as posted.”

Last fall, the county consolidated eight precincts to six, renaming some of the precincts in the process. Maricopa/Stanfield Justice Court, for instance, became Western Pinal Justice Court just as Glenn Morrison took office as constable.

The county then lowered the salary of the highest-paid constables. The Western Pinal constable went from $61,208 to $50,029. The salary of the Casa Grande constable was lowered from $61,208 to $49,939. The salary of the Apache Junction constable dropped from $61,208 to $50,480. The salaries of all six constables now equal $300,000.

“The County’s action in setting the salaries was both unfair and illegal,” the suit claims, further emphasizing the constable positions have not received a raise since 2010.

Previously, the eight constable salaries combined for $321,000. Constables in the smallest precincts made as little as $13,050. Three of the constables made between $32,000 and $36,100. The small districts were combined or folded into a larger district to create the six current precincts.

Though only three constables are impacted by a salary decrease, including Morrison, all six signed onto the suit. Morrison deferred comment on the case. One of their attorneys, Stephen Tully, said they are seeking a raise in salary back to its original rate and back pay.

The state statute does not define a remedy when this section of the law is violated, but Tully said that is not unusual.

“Clearly, the legislators didn’t pass a law that is a violation but has no penalty, no enforcement,” he said.

When the Board of Supervisors approved its 2018-19 budget, it stipulated the six constable salaries combined not exceed $300,000. City Manager Greg Stanley noted increasing the total above $300,000 would require an amendment to the budget.

Tully said when talks with the county “didn’t go anywhere,” the constables opted to take their argument to court to make the county comply with the statute. “I imagine they’ll get it right next time.”

It’s not the first Maricopa subdivision to try to get out of an agreement with Orbitel Communications, but now Desert Passage Community Association is facing a lawsuit from the communications company.

Attorney Mark Holmgren called the evergreen clause “procedurally and substantively unconscionable.”

Orbitel attorneys filed a breach-of-contract complaint in Superior Court in May. They claim Desert Passage violated an agreement when it elected to terminate its cable service as of Dec. 21, 2018.

The suit seeks nearly $1 million in damages. The HOA’s attorneys, however, are challenging a common contract clause that has been a point of contention in community associations across the country.

Desert Passage (Smith Farms) is one of 11 homeowners associations in Maricopa that are “basic cable bulk-billed communities” through Orbitel. That agreement was for an initial seven years, starting in 2004, and renewed in 2011. Containing an “evergreen” clause, it renews automatically unless the HOA membership votes to terminate with a 60-day notice.

In an Oct. 18 letter notifying Orbitel of its pending termination of the agreement, Community Manager Debbie King stated, “The Board of Directors and the community per the contract have made this decision.”

King did not respond to a request for comment.

The details of the HOA decision were not defined until April, after letters were exchanged between Orbitel and Desert Passage and their respective attorneys. Desert Passage attorneys informed Orbitel a “duly noticed meeting” was held on an unspecified date prior to the Oct. 18 letter and the board obtained the required 67 percent vote against renewal.

In that April letter, attorney Mark Holmgren of Goodman Holmgren Law Group, representing the HOA, called the evergreen clause “procedurally and substantively unconscionable.”

Evergreen clauses are accepted in Arizona, but a handful of other states like California and Illinois have placed requirements of “conspicuousness” and renewal notification in their legislation. Courts have usually upheld the automatic-renewal clauses unless the language is ambiguous.

Orbitel received the initial notification of termination Oct. 18, more than 60 days before renewal was due to occur.

But the company wasn’t having it. The agreement with the HOA states the contract cannot be terminated until 67 percent of the homeowners in the association vote not to renew or extend the service. Orbitel claims there is no documentation to prove that happened.

“Orbitel responded with information indicating that, contrary to the terms in the agreement, the homeowners association had failed to obtain the approval of the Desert Passage residents for the cancellation of the agreement,” said John Schurz, president and general manager of Orbitel.

The company requested proof the HOA had taken a membership vote and met the required percentage to terminate. Claiming it received no response from Desert Passage, Orbitel then had its attorneys send another letter to the HOA in November. That letter also requested an updated count of “certificated residences” in the HOA.

Attorney Christopher Callahan of Fennemore Craig wrote that Orbitel’s billings for years had been based on 347 residences. “Orbitel has recently come to understand that there are presently more than 500 certified residences in Desert Passage, with more homes under construction,” he wrote to the HOA, meaning the HOA had been underbilled for years.

He also said the number of residences “is a matter within the exclusive knowledge of the Association,” which was why Orbitel was requesting the information.

However, in a March letter Holmgren stated the contract placed the burden of tracking the number of homes served and maintaining those records on Orbitel. Callahan said Orbitel did maintain the records of the 347 homes that it was billing but received no information on certificates of occupancy.

However, he said, Orbitel decided to do some calculations of its own. Those numbers showed 610 certificated residences, 22 homes under construction, eight lots being prepped for construction and 50 vacant lots.

Based on those numbers, he said, future monthly invoices would be for $11,840 instead of the $6,735 that had been billed.

It is not known what number of residences the HOA used for its calculation of 67 percent. In his sharply worded April letter to Callahan, Holmgren said “Orbitel has no right to review the ballots.”

While Holmgren said there is no longer a contract between Desert Passage and Orbitel, the HOA continued to pay Orbitel in January and February, and Orbitel continues to provide service.

The suit is seeking $6,735 for March, $11,840 each for April and May and then continued damages at that rate through what would have been the end of a renewed seven-year contract in 2025, plus attorneys’ fees. That comes to “at least” $970,888.

Holmgren laid out his dispute of Orbitel’s argument in the April letter. He claimed the language of the agreement indicated only one seven-year renewal, “not continued renewals,” and even cited KB Home as agreeing with his assessment.

“KB Home says the intent of the [agreement] was to allow Orbitel to recoup its investment in original infrastructure, and that the original term would have been sufficient,” Holmgren wrote.

He said any ambiguity in the contract was the fault of Orbitel.

And, Holmgren said, even if the agreement allowed for automatic renewals and even if the terms were not ambiguous, Desert Passage followed the correct procedures to terminate the contract.

Orbitel is part of the City of Maricopa’s origin story. The company was called in by developers in 2001 to help establish communication infrastructure ahead of thousands of homes. The company received a cable TV franchise in 2004, with those early contracts requiring Orbitel to have cable service in place before homes were built.

Later adding telephone and high-speed internet service, the company was acquired by MCG Capital Corporation in 2007. Schurz Communications acquired Orbitel in 2012.

Schurz, the general manager, speaks of Orbitel’s relationship with Desert Passage in the present tense.

“We are hopeful we can reach a speedy resolution to the matters at issue in the complaint,” Schurz said, “and we are committed to fulfilling our service obligations to the community residents and will continue to do so.”

Kathryn Sinkevitch was sentenced to life with no possibility of parole for the murder of Michael Agerter at his rental home on Sagebrush Trail in Rancho El Dorado Dec. 16, 2016.

Kathryn Sinkevitch will spend the rest of her life in prison.

Thursday, Pinal County Superior Court Judge Kevin White handed down a “natural life” in prison sentence to Sinkevitch after she was convicted May 7 of the first-degree murder of Michael Agerter on Dec. 16, 2016.

With a sentence of natural life in prison, she is not eligible for commutation, parole, work furlough, work release or release from confinement on any basis.

It is one of the harshest penalties in the State of Arizona, second only to the death penalty.

Agerter, her ex-boyfriend, was shot and killed in the garage of his rental home in Rancho El Dorado. The two lived separately but had an infant son together.

Prosecutors maintain the murder occurred because Sinkevitch did not want to share custody of the child with Agerter and the two were involved in a court battle, including DNA testing. Agerter, 31, was murdered just hours after submitting DNA samples at LabCorp.

After a little more than a day of deliberations, the jury handed down its decision.

Sinkevitch, 35, appeared for her sentencing Thursday morning wearing a maroon jail uniform, with her long blond hair down and pulled back in a pony tail.

The victim’s mother and father, who live in Ohio, spoke to the court before her sentence was announced.

Michael’s father, Mark Agerter, said the murder of his son was one of the most cowardly acts he has seen in his 60 years on the planet.

“For 35 years, I have taught and coached high school kids and had many opportunities to speak. I have prepared a script though it will not be as eloquent or as colorful in vocabulary as he (Michael) might have done,” Mark said.

He said that since Sinkevitch was found guilty on May 7, many people have “congratulated” him on the verdict. He said the word congratulations is not the right word for the situation. He said Sinkevitch’s actions may not have created a circumstance where there could be a winner.

“The end of Mike’s life did not fit the type of person that he ever was,” his father said. “A few days following (his murder), there were comments on social media from Ms. Sinkevitch’s family members that Mike got exactly what he deserved. This is very disconcerting and did not come from someone who knew Mike.”

He said he has never found anyone who knew Michael that would describe his son in any other way than as a true and sincere person.

As his father spoke, Sinkevitch just sat silently and stared at the back of his head.

“There was absolutely no reason that the events that occurred on Dec. 16, 2016, should have ever happened,” Mark Agerter said. “Mike, from a young age, tended not to be fearful of anything. It showed in everything he did from climbing trees that were too tall as a kid to his efforts playing college football.”

Two armed, female sheriff’s office guards stood very close to Sinkevitch as Agerter spoke.

“Mike truly wanted things to be right for his son,” he said. “After all, he loved children. Unfortunately, he was never allowed to meet his son. There is a reason that we must have prisons. Someone who would act in a very unconscionable and cowardly manner to take a life, like the one taken in that garage in Maricopa, Arizona, on Dec. 16, 2016, must not have the freedom to make that decision ever again.”

He thanked the Pinal County prosecutors in the case, led by Shawn Jensvold and David Ahl and Christine Forbes. He also thanked the Maricopa Police Department for all their hard work.

“Kathryn Sinkevitch may have chosen to take Mike’s life, but she will never kill his spirit. His spirit lives on forever. His family will be sure that the little boy that we call Christopher will be the most loved little boy on the planet,” Mark said referring to his grandson, of whom Michael’s parents have custody.

Michael’s mother, Leslie Agerter, also addressed the court.

She told White about her murdered son and his relationships to his siblings

She spoke about her son’s deep relationship with siblings and family. She talked about her son’s many selfless acts of kindness to family, friends and total strangers.

She also spoke about how her daughter was on the phone with Michael when he was murdered.

“She was his friend but most of all he was her big brother,” Leslie said. “She listened to Michael utter his final words and take his dying breath after Sinkevitch ambushed him in his garage.”

She said no one is perfect and Mike was no exception.

“He may not have been perfect, but he was a gentleman,” she said. “At the first incident of violence against him, he should have been out the door. Instead he stayed. He gave me a whole laundry list of reasons why he shouldn’t leave the relationship. They all revolved around her, and him wanting to make sure she could take care of herself.”

Leslie Agerter said at first her son wouldn’t leave Sinkevitch because she didn’t have a job and he was worried she couldn’t support herself. After she got a job, she said Michael stayed in the relationship to make sure she could get to work because she didn’t have transportation.

She said Sinkevitch used her son’s car to get back and forth to work while he stayed home and worked.

“And finally, when he thought she could be self-sufficient, and he was ready to leave, she became pregnant,” she said. “We are left to raise our son’s son. We decided to call him Christopher in honor of one of Mike’s longest valued friendships. Her rights as a parent have been legally terminated. My son is gone. How are we to explain to his son her actions when he is old enough to understand? I hope I am strong enough and given the wisdom when that inevitable day arrives.”

Both the prosecutors and defense attorney Bret Huggins agreed there is little choice but to give Sinkevitch a natural life sentence.

Huggins told the court he had already filed an appeal and asked to be withdrawn as defense council for Sinkevitch. He asked the court to appoint another defense attorney to handle the case in the future.

White asked Sinkevitch to stand and asked if she had anything to say to the court and she only replied, “No.”

The judge then sentenced her to serve the rest of her natural life in prison with credit for already serving 896 days in custody.

A Curious Coincidence

Leslie Agerter said there is an ironic twist to the murder of her son, something she learned after Sinkevitch was convicted of the murder.

“In a roundabout way it brings everything full circle,” she said. “In December of 1984, Mark and I drove his sister to her new home in Houston, Texas. We decided to attend the Blue Bonnet Bowl between TCU and West Virginia. We watched the West Virginia quarterback lead his team to an astounding victory. On that same trip, I discovered I was pregnant with Michael and here today, 34 years later, we stand before that same quarterback who now presides over the state’s astounding victory over Sinkevitch.”

The quarterback of West Virginia at the Blue Bonnet Bowl in 1984 was Judge Kevin White.

 

Photo by Kyle Norby

The courthouse in Maricopa is off the beaten path.

The average citizen may not realize the city has both a municipal and a criminal justice court in the community, yet the court performs needed duties each day. Sitting on the bench of both courts is the Honorable Lyle D. Riggs.

Riggs could be called the most polite judge in the West. He goes out of his way to make sure those accused of a crime understand what they’re facing, how to navigate the system and to always show up to court when required.

Unlike Pinal County Superior Court, there is no docket available when you come to municipal court.

Mondays, the court tackles arraignments, with the criminal cases being heard by the judge and clerks handling most of the traffic offenses.

Tuesdays begin with pre-trial hearings in municipal court, which also gives defendants the opportunity to talk with a prosecutor and maybe work out an agreement early in the process.

Wednesdays, pretrial conferences for the justice court take place. There are typically 50 or more municipal pretrial hearings and 25 to 30 justice court pre-trials each week at the Maricopa courthouse.

Arraignments also take place on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons.

Thursdays are set aside for contested hearings, small claims and eviction hearings. Riggs said there are six to eight evictions a week in Maricopa. Jury and bench trials take place Thursday afternoons and Fridays when needed.

Friday is one of the most interesting days in the Maricopa courtroom as open court takes place from 8 to 10 a.m. Open court is a time when defendants who are a little off track talk to Judge Riggs and fix what they have done wrong.

Maybe they missed a payment on a settlement agreement. Maybe they missed a court date and have a warrant issued for their arrest. Riggs sets aside Friday mornings in his calendar to give people a chance to make right. He said 30 to 40 people usually come through court on Friday mornings, and anything can happen.

Judge Lyle Riggs is both city magistrate and county justice of the peace. Photo by Jim Headley

Open Court May 3, 2019

(Only first names of the defendants used for privacy.)

8 a.m. – The doors to the Western Pinal Justice Court open. There are about 20 people waiting in line. Everyone entering the building goes through a security checkpoint and metal detector run by the security guard, Lorenzo Villa. People have until 10 a.m. to check in for open court.

8:12 a.m. – Open court starts as Judge Lyle Riggs enters the courtroom.

8:14 a.m. – Riggs explains to attendees how court works and calls the first case of the day. Brian is selected as the first “contestant.” “It’s kind of like a game show,” Riggs jokes. Brian has a traffic ticket for failure to stop, but he failed to appear for a court date in March, and his driving privileges were suspended. He owes $288 in fines and must complete traffic survival school. He asked the court for a payment plan, as he’s starting a new job on Monday and needs his driver’s license reinstated. He promises to make a payment today and get his license restarted. Riggs orders him to pay $80 today and $80 a month starting June 1.

8:20 a.m. – Johnathan missed his deadline to complete court-ordered community service. The agreement is between him and the prosecutor and not the court, so Riggs tells him to talk to the prosecutor. He must be back in court at a later date.

8:21 a.m. – Lane was to be in court April 30 for an arraignment, and he missed it. He tells Riggs he was in police custody at that time. He is rescheduled to appear in court June 11.

8:23 a.m. – Damian also was supposed to be in court April 30 and failed to appear. She apologizes and says she failed to plan for the appearance. Riggs lets her reschedule to appear on June 11. “I’ll accept this excuse one time,” Riggs says.

8:26 a.m. – Shannon is called next with two cases pending. She says she tried to pay on her fine and was told the payment plan was terminated. She says she could pay $150 today and pay off one of the fines by June 1 at a balance of $82. Then she will pay $50 a month on the other fine. “I want something that works,” Riggs says.

8:33 a.m. – Diego was to be in court April 22 and failed to appear. He says he was out of town, but he wants to go to driving school to clear up his tickets. “It’s a good thing you came in today; you were about to get suspended,” Riggs tells him. He has until June 10 to complete driving school.

8:35 a.m. – Ruben was facing a traffic complaint and failed to appear in court on March 25. He owes fines of $668 and currently has suspended driving privileges. He decides to file a written motion for forgiveness on missing his court date and will remain suspended until the issue is resolved. Riggs gives him instructions on how to file the motion.

8:40 a.m. – Maria was wanted on a warrant because she wasn’t making payments to the court. Her last payment was in August until today. She is ordered pay the fine in full, and Riggs cancels the warrant. She also must go through substance abuse counseling by Aug. 2, and she remains on probation. She owes $571 in fines and promised to pay $50 a month.

8:45 a.m. – Christine says she got a letter in the mail that she hasn’t been paying her fines and she wants to reinstate her payments to the court. She also asks for her driving privileges to be reinstated. She promises to pay $100 today and $67 by June 1. Then she is ordered to pay $50 a month. She owes more than $1,000.

8:52 a.m. – Rhonda was last in court in July 2017. Riggs says the court has only received one payment from her and a warrant was issued. Her last payment was in February. She promises to pay $50 today and $50 a month starting June 1. Riggs cancels the warrant.

8:56 a.m. – Steven said he was ordered to do a day in jail and wants to reschedule the date. “This happens. We will get this rescheduled,” Riggs says. Steven will go to jail on May 17.

8:59 a.m. – Robert is called next. Riggs asks him to take his hat off as he approaches the bench, and he is sworn in. He is requesting an order of protection against harassment, but the court has to first prove there is a series of harassment. He keeps getting harassing calls and texts from a man as well as harassing posts on his business website, he says. The protection order is granted.

9:07 a.m. – Nicole requests a protection order. A woman threatened to beat her up in one text and said she wouldn’t stop until she does in a second text. The protection order is granted.

9:13 a.m. – Juan says he was about to have a warrant issued because he hasn’t been making payments. Riggs stops the warrant before it is issued. He tells Riggs he wants to establish a payment plan and get his license reinstated. Riggs orders him to pay $273 today and $200 a month starting June 1 on a balance of $1,000.

9:18 a.m. – Diane was wanted on a warrant as she failed to appear in court for a July 2017 arraignment. She lives in California and will be arraigned later in the day.

9:19 a.m. – Alexander failed to appear in court on Monday. “I forgot,” he says. “Well, that’s an honest answer,” Riggs replies. His court date is rescheduled.

9:21 a.m. – Lewis has four pending cases and he owes fines in each case. He asks to be put back on a payment plan and promises to pay $377 today and then $120 a month.

9:27 a.m. – Victoria failed to appear in court Jan. 14. She is to be arraigned later in the day.

9:28 a.m. – Francisco failed to appear for a court hearing on Wednesday and told Riggs he couldn’t get off work. “You have to get here; otherwise I make the arrangements and my arrangements aren’t very pleasant,” Riggs says. He is rescheduled to appear in court.

9:32 a.m. – Hannah has two cases pending, speeding and failure to appear in court on Jan 16. By default judgment, she owes $290 in fines on the speeding charge and her driver’s license is suspended. She is also charged with failure to have proof of insurance and she failed to appear in court on this charge on March 4. She owes $1,043 in fines on this charge by default judgement and is suspended an additional 90 days. She will file a written motion by May 17 for forgiveness in missing the dates in court.

9:37 a.m. – Joseph asks the court for an order of home detention, so he can get an ankle bracelet. A clerk will help him at the window.

9:40 a.m. – Diana says her driver’s license was suspended. She works in Chandler and is having financial issues. She wants a work driving permit and changes to her payment plan. She also missed a traffic hearing. Riggs tells her to make a payment and the court will release a hold they have on her license. She promises to pay $35 today and $30 a month.

9:44 a.m. – Darrin has two warrants against him and has pending fines, but he was not making payments. He promises to pay $60 today and $60 per month.

9:48 a.m. – Janella tells the court she missed a $200 payment yesterday because she wasn’t in the area and she lost her wallet. Riggs says she has until May 15 to start a $100 monthly payment.

9:50 a.m. – Diane and Victoria, two cases from earlier in the day, are arraigned. Both are criminal arraignments. Riggs explains the rules of arraignment to the two defendants at the same time. Diane was charged Dec. 15, 2016 with driving while suspended. She is also charged with failure to appear. Riggs sets a pretrial conference in the case for June 5. She owes $327 in fines for the failure to appear charge and she agrees to pay $163 today and the rest by June 1.

10:02 a.m. – Victoria is arraigned for driving while suspended on Nov. 16, 2018. The matter is set for a pretrial conference on June 11. On another charge, a plan is set up for a payment of $100 on Monday and monthly payments starting June 15.

10:05 a.m. – Caleb apparently had a disagreement with one of the court staff in the lobby before entering open court. It is something Riggs describes as “not very pleasant.” Riggs says Caleb called a clerk a name. Riggs suggests he apologize to the clerk on the way out of the building. Riggs says when you yell at a member of his staff you are also yelling at him. Caleb tells Riggs he finished driving school. Riggs dismisses a no-proof-of-insurance charge against him and says he was then done with the court and doesn’t need to come back.

10:16 a.m. – William is sworn in by Riggs. He asks the court for a protection order, which was granted by the court as evidence of harassment was established.

10:24 a.m. – Open Court finishes. Riggs says it was a light day and 27 cases were heard in just two hours and 12 minutes.


This story appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.

Photo by Jim Headley

Veronica and Corey Masterson were indicted by a grand jury. PCSO photos

 

A Maricopa couple accused of 10 counts of child abuse appeared in Pinal County Superior Court Friday and hinted at a change of plea.

Veronica and Corey Masterson were indicted by a grand jury on three counts of child abuse in December. Since then prosecutors have upped the charges to 10 counts.

Friday, defense attorney Cody Weagant asked the court for a continuance of the case for 60 days, so they might enter into a settlement conference with prosecutors and possibly a plea arrangement. He asked the court to schedule a change of plea conference on Friday July 19 at 9 a.m.

According to the police probable-cause statement in Veronica Masterson’s case, three children were removed from the couple’s home. During an interview with Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS), one of the children said, “When my dad wants us to shut up, he ties a rubber band around our head and then tapes our mouths shut. They’re always hitting us, and my mom kicks us.”

The child told investigators her parents smoked cigarettes and “something else” that she described as white. When asked by DCS investigators about the father, she said, “I don’t like him. He is so mean to us. He is always hitting us and tells us to shut up. He ignores us and doesn’t want us to talk.”

The girl also told investigators when she was grounded, she was not allowed food or water and she hid a water bottle in her backpack. After talking to investigators, she pleaded with them not to tell her parents what she said as she didn’t want the water bottle taken away, according to police documents.

“They don’t feed us, and we get super starving,” one of the children told investigators.

In the probable-cause statement, the DCS also informed Maricopa Police the mother is currently pregnant, and both parents failed to consent to drug testing.

Other allegations included spankings with paddles and belts and the older children being forced to take care of the younger children while the parents were out all night “doing bad stuff,” according to the probable cause statement.

The couple lost an infant child in 2013, and Veronica Masterson’s four oldest children perished in a fire last year in Illinois.

The father, Corey Masterson, 36, was taken to the sheriff’s office adult detention center Dec. 19, the day of the indictments against him and his wife. At the time of his wife’s arrest a week earlier, he had been taken to a Casa Grande hospital complaining of kidney stones.

 

Kathryn Sinkevitch was convicted of murder Tuesday after a day of jury deliberations.
Michael Agerter

A seven-woman, five-man jury convicted Kathryn Sinkevitch of first-degree murder Tuesday in Pinal County Superior Court.

Sinkevitch was convicted in the shooting death of 31-year-old Michael Agerter on Dec. 16, 2016.

Agerter, her ex-boyfriend, was shot and killed in the garage of his rental home in Rancho El Dorado. The two lived separately but had an infant son together.

Prosecutors maintain the murder occurred because Sinkevitch did not want to share custody of the child with Agerter and the two were involved in a court battle, including DNA testing.

Agerter was murdered just hours after submitting DNA samples at Labcore.

After a little more than a day of deliberations, the jury handed down its decision shortly after 4 p.m.

As the verdict came in, Agerter family members let out a loud gasp of relief while Sinkevitch sat and seemed unaffected by the verdict.

She sat and drank water as the jury handed out her fate.

As Agerter’s mother Leslie Agerter left the courtroom, she said, “I’m just glad that it is finally over.” She and her family sat through every day of the long trial.

“Obviously, I am disappointed,” said Sinkevitch’s defense counsel, Bret Huggins. “There are some legal issues that have to be raised. I think we got a really good jury. I think they did a real good job. It is not over yet, but I am very disappointed that the jury saw the case differently than I did.”

Huggins said sometimes circumstantial evidence can be compelling, but he claimed the evidence in this case was not very strong.

“The circumstantial evidence in this case is, ‘We can’t tell who it is, and people are excluded.’ I’m disappointed, but that’s personal. I got a fair trial. My client got a fair trial. We think there have been legal errors made and we want to raise them in the appropriate court,” Huggins said, adding those issues will be in reference to how he believes his client’s constitutional rights were violated.

Judge Kevin D. White set the sentencing date for Sinkevitch as June 6 at 9 a.m.

More to come …

Kathryn Sinkevitch is accused of murdering ex-boyfriend Michael Agerter in Maricopa.

Monday the jury heard closing arguments and received instructions in the murder trial of Kathryn Sinkevitch at Pinal County Superior Court.

Sinkevitch is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of 31-year-old Michael Agerter on Dec. 16, 2016. Agerter, her ex-boyfriend, was shot and killed in the garage of his rental home in Rancho El Dorado. The two lived separately but had an infant son together.

Prosecutors maintain the murder was because Sinkevitch did not want to share custody of the child with Agerter and the two were involved in a court battle, including DNA testing.

Agerter was murdered just hours after submitting DNA samples at Labcore.

“The defense wants you to believe it could have been anyone who have committed this murder,” prosecutor Shawn Jensvold told the jury. “The person who executed Michael would have known that he was coming home that afternoon. That person also must have had some severe hatred of Michael. Execution, that’s what happened. It doesn’t make sense that it was just anyone who did this.”

Jensvold said Sinkevitch intended to kill Agerter. “That is the essence of first-degree murder.”

He said it wasn’t just one piece of evidence in this case that showed guilt but a culmination of evidence.

Jensvold discussed motive and Agerter’s unwillingness to be a part of his son’s life in the beginning but later changing his mind.

Agerter even filed for custody, and this angered Sinkevitch, according to Jensvold.

“She was so consumed with hatred for Michael … She decided murder was her only option,” Jensvold said.

The prosecutor also discussed opportunity and knowledge. He said Sinkevitch knew Agerter was to undergo DNA testing and also knew his appointment was at 1:30 p.m. that day. She left from work to murder him just an hour after receiving information about when his DNA tests were to be done, according to Jensvold.

He discussed Sinkevitch’s plan to commit the murder, saying that was why she didn’t use her work identification badge to open doors that day and used a friend’s vehicle to commit the murder.

“Why was Kathryn so careless?” Jensvold asked the jury. “How reasonable was Kathryn’s mindset at this time? The bitterness stayed with Kathryn, and she wasn’t thinking clearly.  A reasonable rational person doesn’t commit murder in the first place. He (Agerter) didn’t want her to know where he lived, and she hired a private investigator to get that information.”

He discussed DNA, soil sample and gunshot residue tests that were inconclusive.

He said the person on video at Agerter’s house was similar in stature to Sinkevitch, and the van in the video was also similar to the one Sinkevitch used that day.

Jensvold said Sinkevitch lied about what she did the day of the murder and said she didn’t take a lunch. She clearly is seen on camera leaving work that day for about three hours.

“Consider all the evidence in light of reason, common sense and experience,” Jensvold told the jury. “This can’t just be anyone. The real question is to flip it around – who else could it be besides the defendant? Who else had the motive? No one that we know of. None of the evidence has suggested that in any way. Who else had the opportunity? Who else knew specifically where Michael was going to be after returning from Labcore at 1:30? Who else would be so consumed with their hatred of Michael and self-absorbed to the point that they were willing to execute Michael and leave his family with a picture like this that they have to remember him by?”

He said normal people participate in the legal process when they have a custody problem like this.

“You don’t just go out and execute them in their garage,” Jensvold said in closing.

The defense then had their turn at closing arguments.

“This case is a circumstantial case. There is no direct evidence. There is no direct witness against Kathryn Sinkevitch,” defense attorney Bret Huggins said in his closing arguments.

Huggins said DNA is the gold standard of evidence and two DNA experts testified Sinkevitch’s DNA was not found anywhere on any evidence in the entire case.

Huggins said investigators never tested the van for gunshot residue, only two pieces of clothing that were in the van and only three microns of gunshot residue were found. A micro is 1/20 the size of a human hair he said.

Huggins said the state clearly has not proven their case against Sinkevitch.

The DNA that was found on a hair in the van didn’t match Sinkevitch, Huggins noted.

Huggins said there was no forensic firearms information available in the case. He said the soil samples in the case don’t match. He said they don’t know what size shoe made a shoeprint at the murder scene.

Huggins maintained that Sinkevitch didn’t drive the van seen at the murder scene in videos.

“Is that guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, is it?” Huggins asked the jury.

Huggins also questioned the credibility of the witnesses in this case.

“Some witnesses are just not credible,” Huggins said.

He said the case against Sinkevitch doesn’t fall together. Huggins concluded that Sinkevitch has been left with the burden to prove she didn’t commit the murder but in fact it is the state’s burden to prove she did it.

“Who caused the death of Michael Agerter?” Huggins said.

Huggins cautioned the jury to maintain their individual judgment about the case and not to be swayed by the thoughts of other jury members during deliberations.

“Too often juries become a committee of one,” Huggins said. “You get 12 people in there, a foreman is chosen and everybody else quits having any participation. The jury system doesn’t work that way. We need all of you to participate.  We are entitled to your individual judgment.”

While giving the state’s final rebuttal, prosecutor David Ahl said there is no distinction between direct and circumstantial evidence.

“There’s no dispute the defendant owned a gun, yet no gun was ever found in her apartment,” Ahl said. “None of this evidence proves that Kaythryn Sinkevith wasn’t the shooter.”

He said there is no reasonable doubt who killed Agerter.

“There is no real possibility that it was someone else on Dec. 16 who jumped from that van to kill Michael Agerter,” Ahl told the jury. “For that to be true that it was someone else, Kathryn Sinkevitch would have had to have left work in Bridgett Hopkins’ van for no reason whatsoever after not clocking out, despite having her own car there. Just under an hour after leaving work her phone would have had to go dead. In this period, with her cellphone turned off for two hours, Michael Agerter was murdered. Michael Agerter was murdered just over an hour after she turned off her cellphone.”

Ahl said Sinkevitch had the motive and opportunity to kill Agerter.

“She planned it out and tried to hide her tracks,” Ahl said. “After it was over you have her telling lies that she was at work all day. You have her searching her computer on how to turn off 911 tracking on her phone. This defendant was not ready to share her child with its father because it would make her life more difficult.”

About 3 p.m. Monday, Judge Kevin D. White gave the jury their final instructions and sent them to deliberate Sinkevitch’s fate after three of the 15 jurors were selected as alternates and physically excused.

Soil samples were part of the evidence gathered at the crime scene in 2016.

Tuesday, Kathryn Sinkevitch’s first-degree murder trial entered its fourth day with the testimony of geologist forensics examiner Jody Webb from the FBI Crime Lab.

Sinkevitch is accused in the shooting death of 31-year-old Michael Agerter on Dec. 16, 2016. Agerter, her ex-boyfriend, was shot and killed in the garage of his rental home in Rancho El Dorado. The two lived separately but had an infant son together.

Webb has 21 years’ experience as an FBI geologist forensics examiner.

One of her co-workers performed soil comparison test around Agerter’s house. The co-worker could not testify Tuesday due to illness, so the FBI sent Webb who works with her and also validated these test results.

The FBI analyzed three items, a driver’s side floor mat from a vehicle believed to be used by Sinkevitch during the commission of the murder and soil from a two shoe prints at the scene of the murder.

The whole floor mat from the suspect van was sent to the FBI to be tested.

The soil samples from the floor mat and the shoe prints were compared and tests concluded the soil was different on the mat than both of the soil in the shoe prints at the scene.

The soil makeup of the two shoeprints were also different when tested by the FBI lab. Webb said it is very possible for the samples to be different and still taken in the same area.

Persecutors showed Webb a video showing a suspect wearing a dark hoodie going into the garage and walking across the areas that were tested when Agerter was murdered in the garage.

The soil samples were taken three days after the murder.

Under cross examination, defense attorney Bret Huggins noted that the soil samples don’t match and are eliminated as the source of the soil on the floor mats. Webb, the FBI analyst, agreed.

The soil samples were eliminated, she said.

Michael Agerter was killed at his home, and prosecutors believe the van used belonged to Kathryn Sinkevitch's friend.

On Tuesday, Kathryn Sinkevitch’s friend, Bridget Hopkins, testified at her first-degree murder trial.

Sinkevitch is accused in the shooting death of 31-year-old Michael Agerter on Dec. 16, 2016. Agerter, her ex-boyfriend, was shot and killed in the garage of his rental home in Rancho El Dorado. The two lived separately but had an infant son together.

Prosecutors claim Sinkevitch used Hopkins’ Chrysler Town and Country minivan during the commission of the murder.

Hopkins said the white minivan was her sole vehicle at the time of the murder, and her only means of transportation. It was seized as evidence in the case by Maricopa Police on the day of the murder, and Hopkins has not been allowed to use or even see the vehicle since that day.

Hopkins maintains if Sinkevitch did use her van in the commission of murder, it was without her knowledge.

Hopkins said she first met Sinkevitch in October 2015 when they were in the same company training group at the mortgage company where they both worked.

They started out as just co-workers but then became friends by April 2016, she said. She added they had conversations about Agerter after he and Sinkevitch broke up.

Hopkins told the court, “it was not a peaceful breakup” and Sinkevitch knew she was pregnant. She said Agerter didn’t want to be involved with the child at first.

Hopkins said she hung out with Sinkevitch a “couple times a week,” usually at Sinkevitch’s apartment. She said she and Sinkevitch were also thinking about getting a place together to save money.

On the day of the murder, Hopkins said she drove her van to work. She saw Sinkevitch at her desk later in the morning and said Sinkevitch was “staying at her desk for lunch.” Hopkins said she went to Wendy’s for lunch.

Hopkins said her keys and an employee badge were in her purse and said Sinkevitch never asked to borrow her van that day and she didn’t know if she borrowed it or not.

Hopkins said there was nothing unusual about the van when she got in it and left for home at 5 p.m. on the day of the murder.

Hopkins told the court, Sinkevitch came over to her house in Mesa that evening about 6:30. They cleaned the backyard and were getting ready to have a bonfire when the Maricopa Police showed up 30 to 40 minutes later.

Sinkevitch was taken into custody, locked in the back of a police car for several hours in Mesa and transported to Maricopa for questioning that evening. Early the next morning, Sinkevitch came back to Hopkins’ house after being released from Maricopa Police Department about 2 a.m.

Hopkins told the court they went to bed, and Sinkevitch got up early the next morning and went home to get a few things.

She said only later did she find out that Sinkevitch was not being truthful about not leaving the office the day of the murder. Sinkevitch drove her to work on Monday and Tuesday following the murder, but Sinkevitch didn’t work Tuesday.

Hopkins said police showed her the videos of Sinkevitch leaving the mortgage company and the white van at the murder scene.

She said police also pressured her into having a phone call with Sinkevitch, telling her they would name her as an accomplice.

Prosecutors showed Hopkins photographs of her van Tuesday at the trial. Her black hoodie was on the passenger side floorboard in the photographs. Hopkins wore the hoodie outside when she left the day of the murder for lunch, according to the company’s video recordings.

Under cross examination by defense council and redirect by the prosecutors, Hopkins said police pointed their guns at her and her children the night of the murder, when they were clearing the house in Mesa, and this upset her.

Hopkins also said it was not her walking across the street to Agerter’s house from the white van in the video.

Scene of the murder on Sagebrush Drive in Rancho El Dorado Dec. 16, 2016.

 

Anthony Daniels, a former co-worker of murder suspect Kathryn Sinkevitch, told a Pinal County Superior Court jury she sat and cried the afternoon the murder occurred after she returned to work.

Sinkevitch is accused in the shooting death of 31-year-old Michael Agerter on Dec. 16, 2016. Agerter, her ex-boyfriend, was shot and killed in the garage of his rental home in Rancho El Dorado. The two lived separately but had an infant son together.

Daniels worked at a mortgage company in Tempe in the support department with Sinkevitch. They worked together about two years before the murder, he said Tuesday as he testified at her trial. He was the second of her former co-workers to testify about her behavior the day of the murder in what has so far been a circumstantial case.

Daniels said he communicated with Sinkevitch daily at work.

He said she was very close to co-worker Bridget Hopkins and they would have lunch together. Sometimes he would also get involved in the conversations between them as he sat near Sinkevitch.

He said Sinkevitch was good at her job and was a diligent worker, adding she spoke about her child and how she was going through a custody dispute with the child’s father.

On the day of the murder, Daniels said Sinkevitch behaved normally in the morning. He said she mentioned that the father of the baby had to take paternity tests and said Sinkevitch joked about borrowing his baby for the DNA tests.

He said he went to lunch at noon the day of the murder, and Sinkevitch was not there when he got back a 1 p.m. He said she had an extended lunch that day, but he didn’t know when she did return. He also didn’t know when she left.

He thought she was probably gone a couple hours.

He said she was very quiet when she returned from lunch and was crying. Hopkins, he said, came over to talk with her.

Daniels said Sinkevitch had cried before at work but not often. He told the jury Sinkevitch just sat there and cried that afternoon, which was unusual behavior.

Kathryn Sinkevitch (PCSO)

 

A former co-worker of Kathryn Sinkevitch testified Monday overhearing her say “it would be better” if the victim in her first-degree murder trial “wasn’t around.”

Sinkevitch is accused in the shooting death of 31-year-old Michael Agerter on Dec. 16, 2016. Agerter, her ex-boyfriend, was shot and killed in the garage of his rental home in Rancho El Dorado. The two lived separately but had an infant son together.

Jared Cook, now living in Show Low, said he worked at the mortgage company where Sinkevitch was employed at the time of the murder. He was a loan processor but switched to join the support team and worked directly with her.

He told the jury he often heard Sinkevitch talking to her friend Bridget Hopkins about Agerter, the father of her child.

He said Sinkevitch would tell Hopkins, “It would be better if he wasn’t around.” He claimed the two had conversations like this almost daily and sometimes they appeared to be quite serious and it would “make him uncomfortable at times.”

He said he talked to Sinkevitch about shooting guns once at work, and Sinkevitch said she owned a gun.

The day of the murder, he recalled, Sinkevitch and Hopkins were talking a lot in the morning and then she was gone for a while. Cook said Sinkevitch didn’t say where she was going when she left for lunch but said she was gone “two or three hours.”

Cook added a normal lunch break was 30 minutes on a Friday because they were so busy “trying to get work done before the weekend.”

He said when she returned the afternoon of the murder, she was quiet, which was unusual for her.

 

9mm or 40-caliber? Prosecutors questioned witness over handgun in murder case.

 

A man who briefly dated murder suspect Kathryn Sinkevitch took the witness stand in the first-degree murder trial as it entered its fourth day Monday.

Sinkevitch is accused in the shooting death of 31-year-old Michael Agerter on Dec. 16, 2016. Agerter, her ex-boyfriend, was shot and killed in the garage of his rental home in Rancho El Dorado. The two lived separately but had an infant son together.

Nathan Trotter, of Surprise, said he met Sinkevitch on Plenty of Fish, an Internet dating website and application. After knowing each other online for about a week, in early November 2016 they met in person at a bowling alley. He said she had her infant child with her.

“We saw each other a few times after that,” he said.

They were just getting to know each other and were intimate, he told the jury. The relationship lasted until mid-December.

“It kind of fizzled out,” he said.

Trotter said Sinkevitch talked about the “father of her child” and said they were going through a custody battle. He said it affected his willingness to see her again after a while.

“It was a lot more drama than I was willing to get involved with,” he said.

They also talked about guns one day at her house. He said guns are “a hobby of his.” Trotter is also ex-military and was in the U.S. Army infantry.

The day he went to her house, he saw a pistol sitting on the living room coffee table when he entered her home. He picked it up and “cleared it” to make sure it was safe.

There was a round in the chamber and more bullets were in the magazine, he testified.

He said it was a “gray-colored, lower-end” handgun. He said it he believed it was a 9mm handgun, and he carries a 40-caliber handgun. When questioned by prosecutors, he said it could have been a 40-caliber gun.

Prosecutors have not located the murder weapon in this murder case, but it was determined to be a 40-caliber handgun.

Kathryn Sinkevitch (PCSO)

 

Monday, Kathryn Sinkevitch’s first-degree murder trial entered its fourth day with the testimony of Matthew St. Clair of the Phoenix Police Department Trace Evidence Section of the crime lab.

Sinkevitch is accused in the shooting death of 31-year-old Michael Agerter on Dec. 16, 2016. Agerter, her ex-boyfriend, was shot and killed in the garage of his rental home in Rancho El Dorado. The two lived separately but had an infant son together.

St. Clair positively linked gunshot residue to two black hoodies found in vehicles investigators believe were used by Sinkevitch in the commission of the murder. St. Clair analyzes gunshot residue, foot prints and tire tracks, etc., for criminal investigations.

When analyzing gunshot residue, he examines compounds in the bullet’s primer. The primer creates an explosion and expels particles, which are left on hands, clothing and fabric. The compounds are unique to the primer.

“If we find these particles on hands, they have been using a firearm recently,” he said.

St. Clair tested one of the black hoodies in this case July 20, 2017. He sampled the left and right pocket, cuffs and sleeves of the hoodie to test.

He said he found numerous particles on the right and left side of the hoodie but only one “characteristic particle residue” that was directly linked to gunshot residue on the garment.

“This hoodie was in the vicinity of a firearm when it discharged or touched something with GSR on it,” since the hoodie’s last thorough cleaning, St. Clair said.

A second black hoodie was tested July 24, 2017. There were some residue particles on the right and left but not as many as on the other hoodie, St. Clair testified. It had similar particles on it.

Under cross examination, St. Clair said he can’t determine what type of gun left the residue and can’t determine caliber of the weapon. He admitted only “characteristic particle residue” directly linked to a gunshot was found on each hoodie.

Judge Pro Tem Jack Pritt of the Western Pinal Justice Court found Wayne Miller guilty of 14 counts of animal cruelty following a bench trial on Feb. 15. Miller was sentenced on April 10 to 60 days jail and three years’ probation and is not to possess any animals during that time period.
During the trial, evidence revealed Miller had 14 dogs locked up at his rural Maricopa property. Upon executing a search warrant, Animal Control Officers found layers of animal feces, trash, torn furniture, car batteries, and other items littering the property. Additionally, officers noted there was no drinkable water and food was intermixed with feces and trash lining the floor. The dogs were aggressive to one another and were clawing their way at the interior walls that led to the outside. A carcass of one dead dog was food for other dogs on the property.
Deputy County Attorney Chad Heywood prosecuted the case.
“The conditions these animals were kept in was deplorable, and my goal in this prosecution was to make sure no other animals had to suffer the same fate at the hands of this defendant,” Heywood said.
This was the second animal cruelty conviction for Miller. His first conviction stemmed from an incident that occurred in October 2017. He was convicted on his first offense in May 2018.
If you suspect animal cruelty, please contact Pinal County Animal Control at 520-509-3555. For calls after hours, please contact the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office.

Kathryn Sinkevitch is accused of murdering ex-boyfriend Michael Agerter in Maricopa.

The jury was seated Tuesday and opening arguments took place before Judge Kevin D. White Wednesday morning in Pinal County Superior Court in the first-degree murder trial of Kathryn Sinkevitch. 

Sinkevitch is accused in the shooting death of 31-year-old Michael Agerter on Dec16, 2016. Agerter, her ex-boyfriend, was shot and killed in the garage of his rental home in Rancho El Dorado. The two lived separately, but had an infant son together 

The 15-member jury, including alternatesis made up of eight women and seven men.  

After lunch, Maricopa Police officer Andy Leach described the murder scene to the jury and explained how officers cleared the house after finding Agerter’s body in his vehicle. He said one of the neighbors had multiple activations on their Ring doorbell and recorded video between 2 and 3 p.m. that day.  

The officer was emailed copies of the videos. One was recorded at 2:27 p.m. and when he was asked what it showed, Sinkevitch’s defense attorney Brett Huggins objected. Defense and prosecution attorneys went into chambers to discuss the objection away from the view of the jury.   

The objection was over the prosecutor asking if the video showed a white minivan driving in front of the neighbor’s house. White overruled the objection after the behindclosed-door discussion.  

The officer said he did see a white minivan on the video drive in front of the house at 2:27 p.m. Prosecutors believe Sinkevitch was driving that minivan. 

The prosecution team showed photographs of the murder scene to the jury and the location of several shell casings in the garage where Agerter was murdered. The photographs also showed a digital video recorder that was installed in the house. 

Huggins had no cross examination of the Maricopa Police officer for the defense. 

The prosecution also called Sarah Marie Cooley, who worked with Agerter at Wells Fargo. 

Cooley said she communicated via text with Agerter the morning he was murdered. She met him for lunch that day and arrived at his house at 11 a.m.  

They ate and talked a while and he told her he was going to have DNA tests that afternoon to determine if the child Sinkevitch gave birth to was his child. She said he seemed frightened of taking the medical tests.  

Cooley said she was supposed to meet up with him that evening and talk about the test. She also provided Sinkevitch’s name to officers at the scene of the murder as she went there when she couldn’t locate him. 

The defense had no cross-examination questions for Cooley. 

The next witness to take the stand was Maikayla Lyon, a neighbor. She told the jury she heard some gunshots the day of the murder 

I heard three loud bang, bang, bangs,” she said. 

After hearing the shots, she then saw a white van drive past in front of her house at a high rate of speed. She said the shots she heard clearly sounded like gunshots from a handgun. 

“I ran out to the street as the van flew by,” she said. 

She said the large side passenger door of the van was open and the inside of the van was dark. She tried to get the license plate number on the van, but it was going too fast. 

She also said she didn’t know the victim or the suspect in the case. 

Under cross examination, defense attorney Huggins got her to say it was a Ford or Chevy minivan she saw. The van police believe Sinkevitch used was a Chrysler. 

Under redirect questioning by prosecutors, the witness admitted she probably could not tell the difference between a Chevy, Ford, Chrysler or Honda minivan. 

Doug Schamberg, who oversees IT operations where Sinkevitch works, took the stand next 

He spoke about RFID badges, which employees use to enter the building, and the surveillance cameras in the building.  

Schamberg discussed company records detailing when Sinkevitch and Bridgette Hopkins were in the building based on the RFID badges opening security doors. He said there was also surveillance video recorded on the day of the murder showing Sinkevitch entering the building using a RFID badge at 3:20 p.m. but her badge was not the one used to open that door, according to the company’s computer system, at that time.  

His testimony indicated Sinkevitch was out of the building at the time of the murder that day and had ample time to return to the office in Tempe.  

Video footage from the surveillance camera at Agerter’s home showed a school bus driving past the house before a figure entered camera range from across the street. It was apparently a female in a hoodie that obscured her identity. 

The person left camera range by walking into the garage. A few moments later, the person left quickly, crossing the street and getting into a white caravan, which left the scene. 

The trial will resume Thursday morning and it is expected to continue through May 6.  

Marcos Martinez. (PCSO photo)

Marcos Martinez, 24, was found competent to stand trial on March 20, as Judge Lawrence Wharton found him mentally competent after reviewing Arizona State Hospital evaluation reports.

Martinez is accused of murdering his 62-year-old grandmother, Vicky Ten Hoven. She was found dead from multiple stab wounds and blunt force trauma in her Maricopa home on Jan. 28, 2018.

Prosecutors have until May 31 to determine if they will seek the death penalty against Martinez.

He is scheduled to appear in Pinal County Superior Court on May 24 for a status review and he remains in the Pinal County Jail pending the posting of a million-dollar bond.

Graphic rendering of proposed court expansion in Maricopa.

Despite the lack of a quorum at Thursday’s meeting, the Heritage District Citizen Advisory Committee heard a presentation on the expansion of the courthouse in Maricopa.

The courthouse at 19955 N. Wilson Ave. has expansion plans. The court serves as justice court for Western Pinal and magistrate court for the City of Maricopa.

The courthouse will experience a 41,000-square-foot expansion. Many satellite county offices will be included in the expansion, including the planning department, recorder’s office and several other county functions.

A Pinal County Sheriff’s Office satellite is expected to be part of the expansion on Wilson Avenue.

The county is hoping to break ground on the expansion by the end of 2019, hopefully in October or November, with completion of the project in 12 to 14 months.

The project consists of two buildings. One building is the Community Services Building for county services, like the county assessor, recorder, supervisor’s office, planning and development services. The second building is built around the existing justice building. Another courtroom is to be added. The Sheriff’s Office satellite will be located on one end of the building, and probation will be added to the other end of the building.

The project is designed to stay within the historic parameters of the Heritage District and be a government building that doesn’t look like a strip mall.

Also presented was information about Amalia Clark’s proposed two-story daycare known as Molly’s House of Little Feet at 19909 N. Justin Drive. The facility would be more than 7,000 square feet. The presentation was given to members of the city’s planning and zoning commission on Monday.

The committee also looked at architectural elevations for restaurants, automotive center and self-storage building center at 20215 N. John Wayne Parkway.

A retail center has been proposed in a lot north of the current Maricopa Self Storage. As proposed, it would include two drive-thru restaurants, 6,000 square feet of retail space, an automotive center and 94,000 square feet of self-storage. The lot sold in October for $1.25 million to PH Maricopa LLC of Chandler.

There was also a presentation about recent clean-up efforts inside the Heritage District. Flor Brandow, neighborhood program specialist, said three 40-foot roll-off dumpsters were filled with close to 11 tons of trash by volunteers.

Monday, Dillon Colton Wilson, 26, of Glendale, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Steven P. Logan to 21 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release. Wilson had previously pleaded guilty to assault resulting in serious bodily injury.

Wilson admitted that while caring for the 5-month-old infant victim in the Ak-Chin Indian Community, he forcefully jerked the victim by the left arm, resulting in a complete, mid-shaft break of the upper arm. Wilson is an enrolled member of the Tohono O’Odham Nation.

The investigation in this case was conducted by the Ak-Chin Police Department.  The prosecution was handled by Christine Ducat Keller, assistant U.S. attorney, District of Arizona, Phoenix.