FLORENCE — In a sudden and unexpected twist, murder charges against one of three men arrested in the killing of an Apache Junction couple have been dropped in a plea arrangement.

Clint Wendelschafer, 33, is one of three men charged for the murders of Keith Long and Renae Gardner. Wendelschafer, of Tempe, was taken into custody by the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office on April 23 and charged with first-degree murder.

The couple was shot and killed while they were sleeping at a home in Apache Junction in May 2016. Long’s body was found in a canal in San Tan Valley and Gardner’s body was found along Beeline Highway (State Route 87 between Phoenix and Payson).

Wendelschafer is believed to be one of three suspects involved in the murders. Demian Blu, 41, of Apache Junction was indicted in 2019 for concealing dead bodies and Nicholas Douglas, 44, of San Tan Valley is suspected of helping Blu dispose of the bodies.

Both have been charged with first-degree murder since their initial arrests.

Blu and Douglas appeared Friday in Pinal County Superior Court to have their cases continued to Feb. 21 and re-affirm their upcoming combined trial on March 30.

Wendelschafer was scheduled to appear in court Friday but his planned hearing was canceled. Also, the signed plea agreement he has with prosecutors remains sealed from public view.

Wendelschafer appeared Dec. 20 before Pinal County Superior Court Judge Jason Holmberg to enter guilty pleas to lesser charges of first-degree hindering prosecution and assisting a criminal street gang. Both are Class 3 felonies.

Blu and Douglas remain charged with first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of Long and Gardner.

It is unknown when Wendelschafer will appear in court for sentencing, but the court has scheduled a status review in the case on April 10.

Wendelschafer remains in custody in the Pinal County Adult Detention Center.

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Jim Headley is a reporter covering breaking news, crime and justice around Pinal County. He can be reached at jheadley@pinalcentral.com.

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