Arizona Archives:

FLORENCE, ARIZONA (BNO NEWS) — An Arizona man who tortured, raped and murdered two of his co-workers was executed by lethal injection Wednesday after spending nearly half his life on death row, prison officials said. He is the 26th person to be executed in the United States this year.

Daniel Cook, 51, was pronounced dead at 11:03 a.m. local time at Arizona State Prison Complex – Eyman in Florence, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) southeast of Phoenix. It came several hours after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a last-minute appeal by Cook’s attorneys to block the execution.

His last meal on Tuesday night included eggplant lasagna, garlic cheese mashed potatoes, roasted brussel sprouts, broiled asparagus, root beer soda, and ice cream. The drug for his execution was administered at 10:26 a.m. local time on Wednesday and it took approximately 37 minutes before the sentence was carried out.

Cook’s last moments were said to be emotional as he sobbed while making his last statement. “I’d like to say sorry to the victim’s family. I know that’s not enough,” he said before taking a pause. “Where am I?” he then asked. “To my lawyers, thank you. Red Robin, yum. I’m done. I love you.”

Cook was convicted of the brutal murder of 26-year-old Carlos Cruz-Ramos and 16-year-old Kevin Swaney in Lake Havasu City in 1987. Prosecutors said Cook had quit his job and on July 18 began drinking alcohol and smoking methamphetamine with his former co-worker John Matzke.

Cruz-Ramos confronted Cook and Matzke after he discovered they had stolen $90 money from him. But the two overpowered Cruz-Ramos, stripped off his clothing and bound him to a chair where they beat him with their fists and a pipe. Cook also cut Cruz-Ramos with a knife, raped him, burned his genitals with cigarettes and pierced a staple through his foreskin.

About six hours after the brutal assault began, after midnight, the Cook and Matzke attempted to strangle Cruz-Ramos with a sheet. They then continued to put a pipe over his throat and stood on it until he died.

Several hours later, Swaney arrived at the apartment and saw Cruz-Ramos, whose body had been dumped in a closet. Cook and Matzke then attacked Swaney, who was crying, and also tied him to a chair. Cook stripped off Swaney’s clothing and raped him before Cook and Matzke strangled him with a bed sheet.

Matzke went to the police and was offered a plea agreement for 20 years in prison in exchange for his testimony against Cook, who had suffered severe sexual and physical abuse as a young child. Matzke was released from prison in July 2007 after he completed his 20-year sentence.

Cook was the fifth person to be executed in Arizona so far this year and the 26th in the United States. It came less than a day after 54-year-old Marvin Wilson was executed at Huntsville Unit in Walker County, Texas, for the shooting death of a police drug informant in November 1992.

The execution of Wilson was highly controversial because his attorneys claimed he was mentally handicapped. A psychological test conducted in 2004 pegged Wilson’s IQ at 61, which would make him mentally retarded. But prosecutors and officials argued that the test was carried out by an inexperienced intern and pointed out that several other tests showed his IQ to be above 70.

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PHOENIX, ARIZONA (BNO NEWS) — Jared Lee Loughner on Tuesday pleaded guilty to killing six people and wounding U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and a dozen others when he opened fire at a political event outside a supermarket in Arizona in January 2011, prosecutors said.

Loughner, 23, pleaded guilty to nineteen federal charges in a plea agreement which will spare him a federal death penalty and instead sentences him to seven consecutive life sentences, followed by 140 years in prison, with no eligibility for parole. The deal also waives Loughner’s right to an appeal.

A federal judge had initially ruled in May 2011 that Loughner was incompetent to stand trial due to mental illness and ordered him to be hospitalized in a facility in Springfield, Missouri. Experts had examined Loughner and determined that he was severely schizophrenic, suffering from paranoia and delusions.

But U.S. District Court Judge Larry A. Burns ruled on Tuesday that Loughner, a college dropout, was now competent enough to stand trial and enter a plea. “He’s a different person in his appearance and affect than the first time I saw him,” Burns said of Loughner during the court appearance, as quoted by NBC News.

John Leonardo, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, welcomed the plea agreement. “Given the defendant’s history of significant mental illness, this plea agreement, which requires the defendant to spend the remainder of his natural life in prison, with no possibility of parole, is a just and appropriate resolution of this case,” he said.

The attack happened in January 2011 when Loughner opened fire outside a supermarket in northwest Tucson, where Giffords was hosting her first “Congress on Your Corner” of the year. Loughner, armed with a Glock model 19 9mm semi-automatic pistol, walked up to Giffords and shot her in the head at close range.

The Democrat, who was at the time representing Arizona’s 8th congressional district, was critically injured and remained hospitalized for months. She announced her resignation from U.S. Congress in January of this year, saying she had more work to do on her recovery but promised to return to work for Arizona and the United States.

After shooting Giffords, Loughner opened fire at other people who were attending the political event, killing six people and injuring twelve others. Among the fatalities was federal judge John Roll and 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green. Loughner was arrested when police arrived at the scene.

Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, said Tuesday they both support the plea agreement. “The pain and loss caused by the events of January 8, 2011, are incalculable,” the couple said in a joint statement. “Avoiding a trial will allow us – and we hope the whole Southern Arizona community – to continue with our recovery and move forward with our lives.”

But Susan Hileman, who was injured as she accompanied 9-year-old Christina, said the plea agreement will not give her closure. “There is never closure because Christina is never going to ring my doorbell again,” she told reporters. “The wound is always open, there’s a hole in the world. Judicial proceedings don’t do anything for that.”

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PHOENIX, ARIZONA (BNO NEWS) — Seven people were killed Sunday when a semi-trailer truck crossed the median of an Arizona highway and collided with an oncoming van, state public safety officials said on Monday. Two others were injured.

The accident happened at approximately 11 a.m. local time on Sunday when a semi-trailer truck, traveling westbound on Interstate 10 near the Burnt Wells Rest Area at milepost 87, crossed through the median and struck a van that was traveling eastbound. Both vehicles were pushed into a culvert and the vehicles caught on fire.

“We have confirmed that seven people were killed inside the van,” said Carrick Cook, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Public safety. “The driver of the semi truck and his wife, who was a passenger in the semi, were taken by air ambulance to Banner Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix and are expected to survive.”

Cook said the deceased were burnt beyond recognition and it is expected to take some time before the medical examiner’s office is able to identify them. “We are not certain on the cause of the crash but we will be interviewing the semi driver who remains at the hospital,” he added.

The scene of the accident was about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Phoenix.

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CAMP VERDE, ARIZONA (BNO NEWS) — The wreckage of a helicopter which went missing over central Arizona over the weekend has been found, officials said on Monday. The president and chief executive officer of a local restaurant chain was among the four people who were killed.

The Aerospatiale AS350 helicopter had departed from Scottsdale, a city in the eastern part of Maricopa County, at approximately 8 a.m. local time on Saturday. The aircraft was carrying four people and was en-route to Sedona, a city that straddles the county line between Coconino and Yavapai counties.

“Somebody reported the aircraft overdue when it failed to arrive in Sedona. Search crews with the Civil Air Patrol began looking for the aircraft Saturday,” said Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). A private pilot spotted the aircraft at around 8:45 a.m. local time on Sunday, south of Camp Verde in Yavapai County.

The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Department confirmed the wreckage is the missing helicopter, and said all four people on board were killed. The victims were identified as 70-year-old pilot Raymond P. Perry, 68-year-old Karen Stinn, 63-year-old Mike Dunaway, and his wife, 64-year-old Linda Dunaway.

Perry was the president and chief executive officer of the Arriba Mexican Grill restaurant chain, which has six locations in the Phoenix area.

The cause of the accident was not immediately known.

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PHOENIX, ARIZONA (BNO NEWS) — A former millionaire died in a courtroom in Phoenix on Thursday afternoon, just moments after being found guilty of arson and apparently ingesting something which may have caused his death, officials said.

Michael Marin, 53, was convicted of Arson of an Occupied Structure in Maricopa County Superior Court on Thursday. Wearing scuba gear to escape the flames, he burnt down his own $3.5 million mansion after running into financial trouble in 2009, according to local media reports on Friday.

Once fire officials arrived on scene, they discovered several areas inside the structure where a fire had been ignited, according to KNXV-TV. Officials said Marin owed payments on the home that he was unable to make. Prosecutors argued that his motive was to collect insurance on the home.

After the verdict, while lawyers were arguing aggravating factors in the case, Marin, who was known locally as “Burning Man”, appeared to swallow an unknown liquid. Within moments, his face turned red and he began to convulse. He soon collapsed and was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) — U.S. Senator John McCain on Monday called for a U.S.-led military operation to establish and defend safe havens in Syria, using airstrikes to protect civilians and rebels from forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

There have been increasing calls for military intervention in Syria as Assad has stepped up his bloody crackdown against a popular uprising, resulting in the deaths of up to 8,000 people since the first protests in March 2011. Last month, McCain called for the United States to help arm the rebels against the Assad government, but he stopped short of calling for airstrikes.

“It is estimated that more than 7,500 lives have been lost. The United Nations has declared that Syrian security forces are guilty of crimes against humanity, including the indiscriminate shelling of civilians, the execution of defectors, and the widespread torture of prisoners,” McCain said in a U.S. Senate floor speech. “Bashar al-Assad is now doing to Homs what his father did to Hama. Aerial photographs procured by Human Rights Watch show a city that has been laid to waste by Assad’s tanks and artillery.”

McCain, the first U.S. senator to publicly call for U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria, was also among the first U.S. officials to call for military intervention in Libya which led to the ouster of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi last year. “The kinds of mass atrocities that NATO intervened in Libya to prevent in Benghazi are now a reality in Homs,” McCain said. “Indeed, Syria today is the scene of some of the worst state-sponsored violence since Milosevic’s war crimes in the Balkans, or Russia’s annihilation of the Chechen city of Grozny.”

In early February, the Pentagon began a preliminary internal review of U.S. military capabilities in Syria in the event that U.S. President Barack Obama calls for them. But senior administration officials said such a review is not unusual, and Obama has repeatedly said that he believes it is possible to end the conflict without outside military intervention.

But despite escalating international pressure and sanctions, Assad has been able to continue his crackdown. “Despite a year’s worth of diplomacy backed by sanctions, Assad and his top lieutenants show no signs of giving up and taking the path into foreign exile,” McCain said. “To the contrary, they appear to be accelerating their fight to the finish. And they are doing so with the shameless support of foreign governments, especially in Russia, China, and Iran.”

The UN General Assembly passed a resolution last month which strongly condemned the continued ‘widespread and systematic’ human rights violations by the Syrian authorities and demanded that the Syrian government immediately ceases all violence and protects its people. But the UN Security Council, which has significantly more power, has failed to approve any significant statements due to opposition from Russia and China.

“The Security Council is totally shut down as an avenue for increased pressure,” McCain said, acknowledging that there will be no UN Security Council mandate in the event of a military operation against the Syrian regime. “Russia and China took that option off the table long ago.”

But McCain said the United States and other nations can launch a military operation without support from the UN Security Council. “NATO took military action to save Kosovo in 1999 without formal UN authorization,” he said. “There is no reason why the Arab League, or NATO, or a leading coalition within the Friends of Syria contact group, or all of them speaking in unison, could not provide a similar international mandate for military measures to save Syria today.”

“What opposition groups in Syria need most urgently is relief from Assad’s tank and artillery sieges in the many cities that are still contested. Homs is lost for now, but Idlib, and Hama, and Qusayr, and Deraa, and other cities in Syria could still be saved,” McCain said. “But time is running out. Assad’s forces are on the march. Providing military assistance to the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups is necessary, but at this late hour, that alone will not be sufficient to stop the slaughter and save innocent lives. The only realistic way to do so is with foreign airpower.”

McCain, who was defeated by Obama in the 2008 presidential election, said the U.S. should lead an international effort to protect population centers in Syria through airstrikes on Assed’s forces and by taking out air defenses in at least a part of the country. “The ultimate goal of airstrikes should be to establish and defend safe havens in Syria, especially in the north, in which opposition forces can organize and plan their political and military activities against Assad,” he said. “These safe havens could serve as platforms for the delivery of humanitarian and military assistance. These safe havens could also help the Free Syrian Army and other armed groups in Syria to train and organize themselves into more cohesive and effective military forces, likely with the assistance of foreign partners.”

Thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the uprising – part of the broader Arab Spring movement across North Africa and the Middle East – began almost a year ago. More than 3,800 people have died according to government figures, but opposition activists claim the actual number has already surpassed 8,000.

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TUCSON, ARIZONA (BNO NEWS) — U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona on Sunday announced she will resign from U.S. Congress to focus on her recovery, more than a year after being shot in the head.

The 41-year-old Democrat, representing Arizona’s 8th congressional district since 2007, was critically injured on January 8, 2011, when 22-year-old gunman Jared Lee Loughner opened fire outside a supermarket in northwest Tucson, where Giffords was holding a rally. The shooting attack killed six people, including a 9-year-old girl, and injured 14 others.

Giffords announced her resignation in a two-minute video during which she looks back on her career and urged her colleagues in Congress to work across party lines for the good of the country.

“Arizona is my home, always will be,” she said in her statement. “A lot has happened over the past year. We cannot change that. But I know on the issues we fought for, we can change things for the better. Jobs, border security, veterans. We can do so much more by working together.”

The office of the Congresswoman said she will submit her letter of resignation later this week to House Speaker John Boehner and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. The governor will then set the date for special primary and general elections to determine who will serve the remainder of Giffords’ term, which expires at the end of 2012.

Before leaving office, Giffords will attend the State of the Union speech on Tuesday evening and is expected to finish her ‘Congress On Your Corner’ event which was interrupted when Loughner opened fire in January 2011. She will meet with some of the people who were at the event during a private gathering in Tucson.

“She will also meet and thank representatives of her advisory councils and others who have worked with her on issues of importance to her constituents,” her office said in a statement. Giffords will also visit the Gabrielle Giffords Family Assistance Center, which was opened in September at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona after people donated more than $215,000 in honor of the Congresswoman.

“I don’t remember much from that horrible day. But I will never forget the trust you placed in me to be your voice,” Giffords said in her video statement. “Thank you for your prayers and for giving me time to recover. I have more work to do on my recovery. So to do what is best for Arizona, I will step down this week. I’m getting better. Every day, my spirit is high. I will return and we will work together for Arizona and this great country.”

Responding to the announcement, Boehner thanked Giffords for her service. “I salute Congresswoman Giffords for her service, and for the courage and perseverance she has shown in the face of tragedy,” he said in a statement released by his office. “She will be missed.”

President Barack Obama also praised Giffords and said she will be missed, but recognized her decision is in the best interest of her constituents. “Gabby Giffords embodies the very best of what public service should be,” he said. “She’s universally admired for qualities that transcend party or ideology – a dedication to fairness, a willingness to listen to different ideas, and a tireless commitment to the work of perfecting our union. That’s why the people of Arizona chose Gabby – to speak and fight and stand up for them.”

Obama added: “Over the last year, Gabby and her husband Mark have taught us the true meaning of hope in the face of despair, determination in the face of incredible odds, and now – even after she’s come so far – Gabby shows us what it means to be selfless as well. Gabby’s cheerful presence will be missed in Washington. But she will remain an inspiration to all whose lives she touched – myself included. And I’m confident that we haven’t seen the last of this extraordinary American.”

Vice President Joe Biden said he spoke with Giffords’ husband, Mark, after Sunday’s announcement. “I spoke with Gabby’s husband Mark today and told him that the most important thing is Gabby’s recovery,” he said in a statement released by the White House. “We fully support their decision. I know that Gabby will continue to make significant contributions to her state and country, and I stand with her in whatever endeavor she decides to pursue.”

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TEHRAN (BNO NEWS) — An Iranian court on Monday sentenced a U.S. citizen to death on charges that he worked as a spy for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), state-run media reported.

28-year-old Amir Mirzai Hekmati, who was born in Arizona but is of Iranian descent, was arrested in December 2011 on charges he spied on Iran for the CIA. Iranian state TV later aired a video in which Hekmati confesses to the charges, although it is unknown if he was forced to do so.

According to Iranian prosecutors, Hekmati was hired by the CIA in May 2009 to carry out espionage operations in Iran. He previously served as a U.S. Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan where Iran claims he underwent decade-long intelligence training and had access to classified information.

“In this mission I was fooled by the CIA and although I had entered Iran with a mission to infiltrate in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s intelligence systems and to turn into a new source for the CIA, I didn’t want to hit a blow to Iran,” Hekmati said in his confession on state TV.

On Monday, branch 15 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court sentenced Hekmati to death after being convicted of attempting to infiltrate Iran’s intelligence apparatus in an alleged effort to ‘implicate’ the country in sponsoring terrorism. Under Iranian law, he has 20 days to appeal.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. government is still trying to confirm the reports through the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which represents American interests as the U.S. and Iran have no formal diplomatic relations.

“If true, we strongly condemn this verdict,” Nuland said. “Allegations that Mr. Hekmati either worked for, or was sent to Iran by the CIA are simply untrue. The Iranian regime has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent Americans for political reasons.”

Hekmati’s family has insisted that he is not a spy and was simply visiting his grandmother.

Nuland urged the Iranian government to grant the Swiss protecting power immediate access to Hekmati. “[We also urge the Iranian government to] grant him access to legal counsel and release him without delay,” she added.

In September 2011, Iran’s Judiciary approved the release of two U.S. citizens who were earlier convicted of espionage and illegal entry. Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal had been sentenced to eight years in prison a month earlier.

Bauer and Fattal were arrested in July 2009 along with Sarah Shourd when they crossed the border in Iraq’s Kurdistan region into Iran. Iranian prosecutors charged them with entering the country illegally and having links to U.S. intelligence, a claim which the defendants and their families have repeatedly denied.

According to the detained Americans, they were hiking in Iraq when they unknowingly crossed the unmarked border into Iran where they were arrested by border guards. Iranian prosecutors rejected those claims, saying there was ‘compelling evidence’ that they were spies.

Shourd was released on September 14, 2010, after 14 months of imprisonment. She was released on a $500,000 bail on ‘medical concerns,’ although no details were provided. Bauer and Fattal were also released on a $500,000 bail although none of them will return to Iran.

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PHOENIX, ARIZONA (BNO NEWS) — A college student from Arizona who went missing earlier this month has been found alive after being stranded in her car in the middle of a blizzard for ten days, local media reported on Friday.

Lauren Elizabeth Weinberg, 23, an Arizona State University student, was spotted in her vehicle on Wednesday morning by U.S. Forest Service employees who were checking road closure gates in the Coconino County area, about 46 miles (74 kilometers) from the city of Winslow.

According to a report by KTVK-TV, Weinberg had left her mother’s house, located near East Ray Road in Ahwatukee, Arizona, on December 11. But she eventually became trapped in the middle of a snowy blizzard a day later after her cell phone stopped working.

Weinberg explained that she had left the Phoenix area in her vehicle and began driving to no specific destination until finding herself in Winslow. While driving on a paved road that later turned into a dirt road, she reached a fence line, but when she tried to turn back, the vehicle was stuck in the snow.

The college student was found in a good health conditions, although she was very hungry, thirsty and cold. Local authorities said she was able to survive throughout the 10 days on two candy bars and melted snow.

“I am so thankful to be alive and warm,” she said in a statement quoted by KTVK-TV. “Thank you for your thoughts and prayers because they worked. There were times I was afraid but mostly I had faith I would be found.”

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PHOENIX, ARIZONA (BNO NEWS) — A small plane carrying six people crashed into the Superstition Mountains near Phoenix on early Wednesday evening, officials said on Thursday. There are no signs of survivors.

The accident happened at around 6.30 p.m. local time when a two-engine Rockwell AC69 aircraft, which was registered to Ponderosa Aviation in Stafford, Arizona, crashed into the Superstition Mountains, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) east of Phoenix.

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said the aircraft was carrying three adults and three children, although their identities and exact ages were not immediately released. The aircraft had taken off from Stafford in southeastern Arizona and flew to Mesa’s Falcon Field to pick up the three children for the Thanksgiving holiday.

On its way back to Stafford, the plane crashed near the mountains’ Flat Iron area, which is close to the Lost Dutchman State Park. A security camera which was set up several miles (kilometers) from the mountains caught the crash on tape, showing a huge explosion before a fire broke out.

Sheriff’s spokesman Elias Johnson confirmed the death of one child whose body was recovered near the crash site on late Wednesday evening. The five other people on board, including the pilot and a mechanic, are also believed to have been killed.

Helicopters carrying emergency workers were deployed to carry out the search and rescue operation, but the rugged terrain of the Superstitious Mountains makes it difficult to access the crash site.

Although Babeu said he was hoping to find survivors, the sheriff said the scene does not look promising. All of the children are believed to be between 5 and 9 years old. Johnson later said emergency teams were moving into a discovery phase.

Both the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will investigate the cause of the accident.

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