FLORENCE — The Navajo County Board of Supervisors has approved Pinal County native Gary Husk to be special prosecutor on two cases conflicted out of the Pinal County Attorney’s Office.
Navajo County was asked to step in and take over prosecution of Jose Ignacio Valenzuela and Arturo Jimenez after it was determined that the election of County Attorney Kent Volkmer created apparent conflicts of interest in a number of matters. Volkmer, a defense attorney prior to his election, or one of his former law partners was involved in the representation of some defendants whose cases are being heard in Pinal County Superior Court; in the Valenzuela case, Volkmer had been representing the defendant’s son, according to prosecutor Vince Goddard at a hearing in January.
Husk is also currently acting as defense counsel for both former Superior Mayor Jayme Valenzuela in Maricopa County Superior Court and second-degree murder suspect Andrew Matthew Salazar in Pinal County Superior Court. He is not being retained by Pinal County for his services, though, so he does not believe these ties create any conflict on his part; his services will be paid for by Navajo County, in which he is not representing any clients now.
And this isn’t his first foray into the role of special prosecutor. In 15 years, he said he has prosecuted cases on behalf of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office as well as other county agencies. He also worked for PCAO early in his law career.
Husk was not aware of any immediate deadlines or dates he would be expected to meet as of the Navajo County board’s decision on Tuesday.
In late January, Jose Valenzuela’s trial was tentatively set to begin on Jan. 23, 2018. His public defender, James Mannato, expressed urgency because of the state’s current intent to seek the death penalty.
Jose Valenzuela, of Maricopa, faces two first-degree murder charges in the deaths of Michael and Tina Careccia.
The Careccias each died as the result of a single gunshot wound to the head during the evening hours of Father’s Day 2015, according to the Pinal County medical examiner. Their bodies were found in Valenzuela’s backyard on July 2, 2015, the day after the suspect is said to have confessed to the murders.
The case for Jimenez, an Eloy resident, stems from the 2009 beating that claimed the life of 92-year-old Norberto Castro. Jimenez was not arrested until 2013, following a lengthy investigation assisted by Castro’s family.
He is also charged with second-degree burglary.
During an interview in November, Volkmer estimated 25 cases would need to be removed from his office’s responsibility.
Other cases reassigned to agencies outside of Pinal County have included the Eloy second-degree murder case against James Robles for the death of Susan Ronquillo. The Pima County Attorney’s Office accepted that matter, though Chris Ward, who had been handling the case for PCAO before leaving the office, remains the lead prosecutor.
And at least two capital defendants who have been awaiting trial on first-degree murder charges for more than three years also faced a conflict. Bryan Lee Shaw is charged with the 2012 death of his wife, Denise Padilla-Shaw, and Connie Villa is accused of killing her 13-year-old daughter Ania Rael Macias on Christmas Day 2013.
According to court records, Villa’s case has been reassigned to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. In Shaw’s case, however, PCAO has taken the position that no conflict actually exists. That trial is now scheduled to begin on Oct. 15, 2018.