Victims of the State

23 Cases

Maricopa County, AZ

John Knapp

Nov 16, 1973 (East Mesa)

John Henry Knapp was sentenced to death for allegedly setting a fire that killed his two daughters, Linda Louise, 3 1/2, and Iona Marie, 2 1/2. The fire occurred in the children's bedroom at the Knapp house located at 7435 East Capri in East Mesa, AZ. Shortly before the coroner's inquest, Knapp's wife, Linda, fled to Nebraska. Knapp was told that a fuel can found at the site of the fire had no identifiable children's prints (thus ruling out accident), but did contain numerous adult prints. During his interrogation, Knapp confessed to setting the fire, but recanted within minutes and never wavered in maintaining his innocence.
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Maricopa County, AZ

Jonathan Treadaway

Aug 30, 1974 (Phoenix)

Jonathan Charles Treadaway, Jr. was sentenced to death for the sodomy and murder of Brett Jordan, a 6-year-old boy. The prosecution presented a set of palm prints on a window of the boy's house that matched those of Treadaway. Treadaway admitted that he had looked in some windows the night of the boy's death, but denied that he had ever entered any house or touched any boy. The Arizona Supreme Court granted Treadaway a new trial based on the incompetence of his trial counsel, and at the new trial the defense called five pathologists who testified that there was no evidence that the boy had ever been raped or that he had died of anything but natural causes. Treadaway was acquitted and released in 1978.  (News Article) (77) (78)  [7/05]

Maricopa County, AZ

James Robison

June 2, 1976 (Phoenix)

James Robison was sentenced to death for the murder of reporter Don Bolles. Bolles covered organized crime for the Arizona Republic newspaper. He died shortly after a bomb exploded in his car, which was parked outside a hotel in downtown Phoenix. As he lay dying, he whispered, “They finally got me, the Mafia, Empise. Find John Adamson.” Empise was a corporation with ties to the dog track industry and suspected of being connected to the mob. Adamson was a well-known crime figure who was prosecuted for Bolles' murder.

As part of a plea deal in which he would receive a 20-year sentence, Adamson named several co-conspirators, including Robison. Adamson admitted planting the bomb, but said Robison detonated it. On appeal, Robison was granted a new trial. Adamson, though, refused to testify again against Robison without a new deal that let him out of prison immediately. Robison was released in 1980. The prosecution went after Adamson and secured the death penalty against him. In the course of the appeals from that sentence, Adamson agreed to cooperate once again and his 20-year sentence was reinstated.

Robison was recharged in 1990. At retrial in Dec. 1993, Adamson and a series of jailhouse informants testified against Robison. The jury also learned about new evidence that indicated Adamson was framing Robison to protect his true accomplice. The jury acquitted Robison of all charges.  (TWM)  [3/07]

Maricopa County, AZ

Paris Carriger

Mar 13, 1978

Paris Carriger was convicted in 1978 of the robbery and murder of Robert Shaw, 55. The crimes occurred at Shaw's Jewelry store on North Central Avenue in Phoenix. Carriger's attorney failed to cross-examine the state's key witness, Robert Dunbar. The attorney planned on calling him during the defense portion of the trial, but did not know till then that by waiting he waived his right to call Dunbar. Years after the trial when Dunbar was near death, he confessed to the crime in 1987 and again in 1991. Carriger was last scheduled for execution on Dec. 6, 1995. His conviction was overturned in 1997, leading to his release in 1999.  (Tucson Weekly)  [3/07]

Maricopa County, AZ

Robert Charles Cruz

Dec 31, 1980 (Phoenix)

Robert Charles Cruz was sentenced to death for the contract murders of two people.  Patrick Redmond, 46, and his mother-in-law, Helen G. Phelps, 70, had been shot to death by three men in Redmond's home. The assailants also shot Redmond's wife, Marilyn, but she survived. Cruz had allegedly hired three men to kill Redmond because he wished to take over Redmond's print shop, Graphic Dimensions. Prosecutors said Cruz wanted to use the firm to launder money from connections in Las Vegas.

The evidence against Cruz came from a felon who received immunity from prosecution in return for his testimony. On appeal, the Arizona Supreme Court held that the trial court had demonstrated actual prejudice against Cruz, and that the conviction could not stand. Two subsequent retrials ended in hung juries, but a fourth trial ended again in a conviction and a death sentence. Once again, however, the Arizona Supreme Court found the conviction to be faulty and sent the case back for a fifth trial. At this new trial, new evidence emerged about the prosecutors' pressuring of witnesses and offering deals. The fifth trial jury heard the whole story and acquitted Cruz of all charges.  (State v. Cruz)  [7/05]

Maricopa County, AZ

Debra Milke

Dec 2, 1989 (Tempe)

Debra Jean Milke was convicted of the 1989 murder of her 4-year-old son.  (American Justice) (JD#1) (JD#2) (  [5/05]

Maricopa County, AZ

Eric King

Dec 27, 1989 (Phoenix)

Eric John King was convicted of the murders of Ron Barman, a store clerk, and Richard Butts, a security guard. The murders occurred during a midnight robbery of the Short Stop convenience market at 48th Street and Broadway in Phoenix. The robbery was captured on videotape and grainy images from it showed the robber was a black male wearing a dark sweater with a band of light colored, diamond-shaped markings across his chest and arms.
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Maricopa County, AZ

Danny Willoughby

Feb 23, 1991

Daniel Hayden Willoughby was convicted of the murder of his wife, Trish. Trish was murdered while the Willoughby family was on vacation near Puerto Penasco, Mexico. Dan had gone into town with the couple's three children and returned less than two hours later to find his wife had been brutally stabbed and her skull fractured.  (IIPPI)

Maricopa County, AZ

Buddhist Temple Innocents

Aug 10, 1991

During interrogations that lasted up to twenty-one hours, Maricopa County Sheriffs in Phoenix coerced confessions from Leo Bruce, Mark Nunez, and Dante Parker to the mass murder of nine persons at a Buddhist temple. Ballistics tests later revealed the identity of the true perpetrators. These perpetrators were found with loot from the temple and they confessed to the crime.  [9/05]

Maricopa County, AZ

George Peterson

Oct 18, 1991

During a 16-hour interrogation, Maricopa County sheriffs extracted a confession from George Peterson to the murder of 50-year-old Alice Marie Cameron. Fourteen months later, one of the one of the perpetrators of the Buddhist Temple massacre admitted that he had killed Cameron shortly before being arrested for the Temple murders.  [9/05]

Maricopa County, AZ

Ray Krone

Dec 29, 1991

Ray Krone was sentenced to death for the murder of Kim Ancona, 36, a bar manager who was killed at the CBS Lounge restaurant where she worked.  Krone was a regular customer at the restaurant/bar and knew Ancona. Krone had an alibi and his 10-1/2 shoe size did not match the 9-1/2 size shoe print left at murder scene. Hairs and partial fingerprints found did not match Krone either. However, police felt Krone's teeth matched a bite mark on the victim. Krone was dubbed the “Snaggletooth Killer” because one of his top front teeth stuck out. At trial, Dr. Raymond Rawson, a nationally known forensic odontologist, testified that he was 100% certain that bite mark on the victim matched Krone. After Krone's conviction was overturned, a retrial jury convicted him again in 1996 despite defense testimony from three forensic dentists that the bite mark did not match. This time the judge sentenced him to life in prison, citing doubts about whether Krone was the killer. In 2001, DNA testing of blood found on victim was matched to the actual killer, Kenneth Phillips, and Krone was released after serving 10 1/3 years.

It was later learned that prior to the second trial the prosecuting attorney was personally told by two of the country's most respected dental forensic experts that there was “no way” the teeth marks on Ancona's body were made by Krone. The experts asserted the prosecution's dental expert was absolutely wrong to identify Krone as the source of the bite marks. Not only did the prosecutor not inform the defense of this exculpatory information, but he proceeded with seeking the death penalty.

In 2004, Krone came to the attention of the TV show Extreme Makeover, and agreed to a makeover that included the replacement of five of his front teeth. The program documenting his transformation was broadcast in Feb 2005. In April 2005, Krone was awarded $1.4 million by Maricopa County and in September he was awarded $3 million by the city of Phoenix. In Feb 2006, the Arizona legislature publicly apologized to him. Krone's case is profiled in the first half of the book The Death Penalty on Trial by Bill Kurtis.  (Forensic Files) (JD) (IP) (CCADP)  [12/06]

Maricopa County, AZ

Christina Mason

Mar 6, 1993

Phoenix police elicited a confession from Christina Mason that she killed her three-month old child by letting another woman inject the child with heroin and cocaine to keep the child from crying. Autopsy results revealed no drugs other than Tylenol in the child's body. The medical examiner concluded the likely cause of death was pneumonia or a viral infection.  [9/05]

Maricopa County, AZ

Shannon & Tony Whittle


Shannon and Tony Whittle were convicting of abusing and “shaking” their quadruplet babies, but the babies, who each would fit into an adult hand when born, have medical problems and show symptoms of Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a genetic disorder characterized by bones that break easily with little or no apparent cause. The two were sentenced to 172.5 and 5 years respectively.  (AZ Quads)  [5/05]

Maricopa County, AZ

Rachel Jernigan

Sept 20, 2000

(Federal Case) “Rachel Jernigan was wrongly convicted in March 2001 of robbing a Bank of America branch in Gilbert, Arizona in September 2000. Her conviction was based on the eyewitness identification of five people who were in the bank, including the robbed teller, and the bank surveillance video that only showed a woman physically resembling Jernigan. Jernigan was sentenced to 14 years in prison and 5 years of supervised release. After her conviction, but before [her] direct appeal had been decided, she learned in December 2001 from other prisoners that a woman who resembled her had been arrested for robbing the same bank Jernigan had been convicted of robbing, and she was charged with also robbing two banks after Jernigan's arrest, but before her trial.”

“Subsequent investigation resulted in the discovery that the government knew that banks in the area continued to be robbed by a woman resembling Jernigan -- after she was jailed and awaiting trial. Jernigan filed a motion for a new trial based on the government's failure to turn over the exculpatory evidence. Her motion was denied by the District Court. She appealed and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of a new trial. Jernigan sought and was granted a hearing en banc by the full 9th Circuit. On July 9, 2007 the Court en banc reversed the District Court's ruling and ordered a new trial. Habeas petition for a new trial [was] based on the government's failure to disclose the new evidence that she had been mistakenly identified for the actual robber. On February 5, 2008 the federal prosecutors dropped the charge against Jernigan and she was released after 7 years and 3 months in custody. In July 2008 Jernigan filed a federal civil rights lawsuit that named the [cities] of Mesa, Chandler, Tempe and Gilbert, Arizona as defendants.” – FJDB  (JD) (U.S. v. Jernigan)

Pima County, AZ

Louis Taylor

Dec 21, 1970 (Tucson)

Louis C. Taylor was convicted of 28 counts of first-degree murder. He was accused of setting fire to the Pioneer International Hotel on the northeast corner of Stone Ave. and Pennington St. in downtown Tucson. Twenty-nine people died as a result of the fire, including one woman who died months later from injuries sustained in the fire. Taylor, 16, whose juvenile-court record included theft, was accused of setting the fire (or fires) as a diversion so he could steal from guests' rooms. No one saw him set the fire. But a hotel employee saw him in a stairwell looking up at the flames and mentioned him to police. Other witnesses said he was one of that night's heroes, helping to evacuate the hotel.

The chief arson investigator found no obvious evidence of arson – no residue of flammable liquid or burned matchsticks. Instead he asserted from burn patterns that two fires were started at least 60 feet apart on the fourth floor hallway. Modern experts now dispute the arson finding, and even one of the original investigators, Marshall Smyth, said that he and another fire investigator were like members of “a black magic society” that in those days relied on untested assumptions about what indicated arson. “I came to this opinion some time ago that neither one of us had any business identifying that fire as arson.”

Taylor, after decades of imprisonment, recalled that over the years others – including his former trial judge – advised him to seek a reduced sentence. But one condition was that he admit guilt and show remorse. Taylor said, “I told them I'd rather die in prison.” In 2003, the case was featured on a 60 Minutes episode.  (Hotel Online)  [1/07]

Pima County, AZ

Mitchell Blazak

Dec 15, 1973 (Tucson)

Mitchell Blazak was convicted of the 1973 murders of a bartender and a customer at the Brown Fox Tavern in Tucson. The conviction was based largely on the testimony of Kenneth Pease, a small time con man who was arrested for a number of felonies in New Mexico and Arizona. Pease testified after being granted immunity. In 1991, a federal court termed Pease's testimony “a mass of contradictions.” The court also ruled that the trial judge had failed to ensure that Blazak was competent to stand trial. Rather than pursue a new trial, the prosecutor offered a no contest plea in 1994, which allowed Blazak to be released the same year. There was some evidence that a deputy sheriff named Michael Tucker planted hair evidence in the case.  (DPIC) (77) (82) (92) (93)  [9/07]

Pima County, AZ

Larry Youngblood

Oct 29, 1983

Larry Youngblood was convicted of abducting 10-year-old David L. from a church carnival and repeatedly sodomizing him. David said his assailant had a disfigured eye. Youngblood fit this description and the traumatized child identified Youngblood in court as the perpetrator. Youngblood lived alone, had a history of mental illness, and had had previous run-ins with the law.

Youngblood appealed his conviction because the state had collected semen samples left by the assailant both in and on the victim, but had failed to perform tests on the samples to determine the blood type of assailant. It had also failed to refrigerate the samples so that tests could be performed at a later date. Such tests might have completely exonerated Youngblood. The Arizona Court of Appeals agreed with Youngblood that he had been denied due process and overturned his conviction. The state appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court which reinstated Youngblood's conviction in 1988. This decision was later recognized as an important precedent which limited the rights of criminal defendants.

In 1998, Youngblood was paroled from prison, but was reincarcerated the following year for failing to register his new address as required by sex offender laws. However, by this time, advances in DNA testing technology allowed DNA tests to be performed on the degraded semen samples. In 2000, Youngblood was exonerated of the crime after such tests were performed. In 2001, the DNA profile obtained from the tests was found to match a Texas inmate, Walter Cruise, who was subsequently convicted of the crime.  (IP) (JD) (Arizona v. Youngblood) (86) (89)  [8/09]

Pima County, AZ

Melvin B. Coley

Mar 13, 1986

Melvin B. Coley was convicted of conspiracy to murder Carl Martin. The conviction was due to the testimony of dubious informants who were not involved in Martin's murder. A police informant, Homer Payne, placed Coley in the middle of the conspiracy because of an alleged phone conversation he had with him. Payne has multiple felony convictions. Payne kept a journal in which he portrayed Coley as a black militant terrorist and alleged Coley had ties to Libyan leader Khadafy and other militant leaders around the world. At the end of Coley's trial, a judge sealed the journal apparently because it also implicated a U.S. Senator, a county judge, and countless Italian attorneys as participants in illegal activities. A businessman who had given Payne a job upon his release from prison said Payne was “the most accomplished liar he had ever met.” Coley has affidavits from the three acknowledged participants in Martin's murder that he had nothing to do with it.  (Source)  [11/07]

Pima County, AZ

David Wayne Grannis

Aug 24, 1989

David Wayne Grannis was sentenced to death for murder of Richard Sutcliffe. While hitchhiking, Grannis and a co-defendant, Daniel Ethan Webster, were given a ride by Sutcliffe. Sutcliffe offered the men a place to stay. At trial the state argued that Grannis and Webster killed Sutcliffe while robbing him and burglarizing his home. Grannis testified that Sutcliffe sexually propositioned him and became aggressive with him. Grannis ran out of the house and did not know that Sutcliffe was dead until he was arrested. Grannis believed his screams must have awakened Webster, who killed Sutcliffe after he left. A female friend of Webster testified that she overheard Webster bragging to her cousin about committing a murder.

During trial, the prosecution introduced photos depicting homosexual activity that were found in Grannis's room at the time of his arrest. The Arizona Supreme Court overturned Grannis's conviction in 1995. It ruled that the photos were “marginally relevant” and that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting them. The Court stated that the probative value of the photos was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. At retrial in 1996, the charges against Grannis were dismissed because of insufficient evidence.  (DPIC)  [10/07]

Pima County, AZ

El Grande Innocents

June 24, 1992 (Tucson)

Chris McCrimmon, Andre Minnitt and Martin Soto-Fong were sentenced to death for the shooting murders of three people at the El Grande Market in Tucson. The victims were Fred Gee, 45, the store manager; his uncle, Zewan Huang, 75, who also worked there; and Raymond Arriola, 31, a store clerk. After being arrested for a parole violation, an informant, Keith Woods, fingered the three. At the trials of the three, police detective Joseph Godoy testified that he first learned of the three from Woods, testimony which was later proven to be perjured. It seemed likely that the names were supplied to Woods by the police. DA Kenneth Peasley was later disbarred for intentionally presenting this false evidence. Peasley had twice been selected as state prosecutor of the year. McCrimmon and Minnitt have since been exonerated, but Soto-Fong is reportedly still on death row.  (New Yorker)  [3/07]

Pima County, AZ

Lemuel Prion

Oct 23, 1992

Lemuel Prion was convicted in 1999 of the murder of Diana Vicari. He was sentenced to death. Prion's conviction was based largely on the testimony of Troy Olson, who identified Prion as the man who was with Vicari on the night of her murder. However, when police first showed Olson photographs of Prion, Olson could not identify Prion. In 2002, the Arizona Supreme Court overturned Prion's conviction because trial court abused its discretion in not allowing the defense to submit evidence that a third party, John Mazure, was the actual killer. Mazure, who was also a suspect in the murder, was known to have a violent temper, saw Vicari the night of her disappearance, concealed information from the police when they questioned him, and “appeared at work the next morning after Vicari's disappearance so disheveled and disoriented that he was fired.” All charges against Prion were dismissed in 2003.  (DRE)  [3/06]

Yavapai County, AZ

Ray Girdler

Nov 20, 1981

Ray Girdler was convicted of setting a fire that killed his wife and child. The conviction was based on testimony by the prosecution's “expert” witness that a flammable liquid was present in Girdler's home. Subsequent tests showed there were no such liquids and that the fire started from natural origins. Girdler was cleared in 1990 after 8 years of imprisonment.  [7/05]

Yuma County, AZ

Jimmy Lee Mathers

June 8, 1987 (Yuma)

Jimmy Lee Mathers associated with Teddy Washington and Fred Robinson. The three lived in Banning, a small town in Southern California. Robinson was in a volatile relationship with his common-law wife, Susan Hill. With Robinson's permission, Hill went to visit her father and stepmother, Ralph and Sterleen Hill. The couple lived in Yuma, Arizona. Susan then refused to return, and got a protection order to prevent Robinson from visiting her there. She then left without telling Robinson and visited her grandmother in California. Ralph and Sterleen then were shot during a home invasion. Sterleen died.

The invasion appeared to be a robbery as the intruders stated they were narcotics agents and said, “We want the dope and money.” The house was also ransacked. There was some circumstantial evidence linking Robinson and Washington to the crime. However, there was little evidence linking Mathers. Nevertheless, the three were arrested and tried together. At trial, Mathers' attorney moved for a judgment of acquittal on the grounds of insufficient evidence. The motion was denied. All three defendants were convicted and sentenced to death.

In 1990, the Arizona Supreme Court reviewed Mathers' case, and “viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution” found a “complete absence of probative facts.” It noted that the evidence presented at trial had “nothing to do with Mathers.” The court vacated Mathers' conviction and entered a judgment of acquittal.  (TWM)  [3/07]