Entries in Arizona (224)


Betty Smithey, Longest Serving Female Inmate, May Get Parole For 1963 Murder

Arizona Department of Corrections(NEW YORK) -- Betty Smithey has been in prison for 49 years, convicted of killing a baby. Until now she was without the possibility of parole, but the "old code lifer" has been granted a chance at freedom by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.

Smithey, who is the U.S.'s longest serving female inmate according to a public records search by the Arizona Republic, was convicted in the 1963 New Year's Day murder of Sandy Gerberick, a 15-month-old she had been babysitting.

At the time, Smithey was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. According to the law at the time she was sentenced, only the governor could grant her clemency.

She tried, appealing to former Arizona governors Fyfe Symington and Janet Napolitano, but was denied until Brewer, the current governor, approved Smithey's clemency request and agreed to lower her sentence to 48 years to life.

"Given the circumstances of Ms. Smithey's case, Governor Brewer believes this is an appropriate time for the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency to review this case for parole," said Matt Benson, spokesperson for Brewer.

The fate of the 69-year-old will rest in the hands of the five-member Arizona Board of Executive Clemency, who will hear Smithey's case on Aug. 13.

Smithey's attorney, Andy Silverman, said news of the hearing that had been granted "came as a pleasant surprise."

"If she was found guilty today, it may be second-degree murder. If she had [been convicted of second-degree murder instead of first] in 1963 when she was tried, she would have been out of prison many years ago," Silverman said.

Smithey escaped four times during her first few decades in prison. But a letter she received from her young victim's mother in 1983 flipped a switch in her and made her use her time to "be reflective," Silverman said.

At 69, Smithey walks with a cane and has battled breast cancer and "a myriad of other health issues," Silverman said.

"She's absolutely not a threat to society. She's almost 70 years old now," Silverman said. "She's done a lot of reflection. Forty-nine years in prison, you think a lot about what you've been through."

If released, Smithey plans to live with her niece, Silverman said.

The contingency plan for her release will be an important piece of Smithey's parole hearing, said Zig Popko, clinical professor at Arizona State's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at ASU.

"She has to show she is not a risk is what it comes down to," he said. "A board member will look at where she is going to be living. Does she have friends or family who are willing to take care of her? Does she have a release plan?"

Three of the five members of the parole board will have to vote in Smithey's favor in order for her to be released. If the hearing is unsuccessful, she'll be eligible again in six months.

"At this stage," Popko said, "She has gotten over the biggest hump."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Naked Carjacker Is Former English Teacher, Real Estate Exec

ABC News(PHOENIX) -- An Arizona man who allegedly went on a naked carjacking spree that left seven people injured and caused several crashes has worked as a real estate executive and was once a high school English teacher.

John Brigham, 45, was ordered held on $100,000 bond Friday for the bizarre scene he allegedly caused last Friday. Toxicology reports indicated Brigham had PCP in his system at the time, police said.

Brigham, who has a degree from Norwich University in English and education, according to his LinkedIn page, worked as a high school English teacher at Chandler High School in Arizona from 1995 until 2003.

“He was a stellar teacher,” Terry Locke, director of community relations for the Chandler Unified School District, told ABC News.  "He left to pursue opportunities in the private sector making a lot more money. The school was sad to see him leave.”

Brigham currently works as a senior vice president at a commercial property management and brokerage firm in Arizona, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Around 1:30 p.m. on Friday, police said Brigham was involved into a three-car crash. After Brigham got out of his car, witnesses said his behavior was bizarre.

He took off all of his clothes with the exception of his socks and was “yelling and chanting,” witnesses told police. Brigham jumped onto the roof of another car before carjacking a woman in a blue Prius, leaving the scene of the first accident.

A short time later, investigators said, Brigham allegedly caused a second crash involving five cars.

The wife of a man involved in the crash said Brigham was undeterred and tried to carjack other vehicles, even though he had been ejected from the Prius at impact.

“He got out naked, running all over the place trying to get into other people’s cars,” the unidentified woman told ABC News’ Phoenix affiliate. “When he called and said he was hit by a naked man in a Prius, I thought it had to be a joke.”

Four people were injured in the second crash, including a pregnant woman who broke both her legs, police said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Mom Accused of Giving Toddler Beer at Restaurant

ABC News (PHOENIX) -- A Phoenix mom was arrested after she allegedly put beer in her toddler’s sippy cup and a witness claimed the child fell out of his chair in a possible state of intoxication.

Officers arrested Valerie Marie Topete, 36, after they were called to a Peter Piper restaurant in Phoenix by witnesses who said they saw the mother of three pouring beer into her 2-year-old son’s sippy cup.

“Witnesses further stated the child did drink from the cup after the suspected beer was poured and, at one point, the suspect left the child alone with the alcohol in the cup.”

Topete said she gave her son beer after he “kept reaching” for the pitcher on the table. She initially denied her son drank from the cup but later said it was possible he could have, police said in a statement.

Officers determined the contents of the cup were “consistent with beer” and arrested Topete on one count of child abuse.

Her son was taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure, police said.

Topete’s other two children, ages 8 and 4 years old, were released into the care of their father.

ABC News was unable to reach Topete for comment.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Arizona Bear Attacks Up to Three in a Month

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(PAYSON, Ariz.) -- The Tempe, Ariz., man who was injured during a rare bear attack in the Tonto National Forest over the weekend is in critical condition after the state’s third such incident in a month.

Peter Baca, 30, was airlifted Sunday morning to a Scottsdale hospital after the bear smashed his forehead and left large lacerations and bite wounds on the man’s legs and arm, officials said.

“He had a large spot on the right side of his head that was just a mess, but he was alert and talking, which was amazing,” said Carly Stoltenberg, who was camping nearby when the bear attack happened.

The attack at the Ponderosa Campground was the third incident in the area involving a bear within the past month, according to the Arizona Fish and Game Department, which explained that the bears are most likely drawn to garbage and the scent of food.

The first attack was on May 31 when a bear entered a woman’s tent, also at Ponderosa Campground, and clawed her.

A bear also entered an unfinished cabin on June 21 near Tonto Village, which is about 2.5 miles away from Ponderosa Campground, and bit a sleeping man on his leg.

Neither suffered life-threatening injuries, but Baca, the victim of Sunday’s attack, wasn’t nearly as fortunate.  The man’s fiancée and a 1-year-old child were able to escape unharmed and warn other campers in the area.

Camper Stoltenberg said her husband and another man grabbed their guns and tried luring the bear away from the campsite.  They didn’t want to fire at the bear because the area was so crowded and they feared that shooting would only anger the bear.

The men led the bear away, but it started walking toward them and they fired several shots.  But they don’t think any of the shots hit the bear.

After being chased away, the bear walked to the campground where it attacked the Tempe man.

Baca’s life was possibly saved by an off-duty EMT who just happened to be camping nearby.  The EMT had a bag full of medical supplies and was able to wrap Baca’s wounds and give him an IV.

“There was blood everywhere and the campsite was a mess, but that man saved his [Baca's] life.  I definitely don’t think he would still be alive if he wasn’t there,” Stoltenberg said.

Although two bears were tracked and killed by rangers on Monday, state officials are still unsure whether either of the bears was responsible for Sunday’s incident.

“We won’t know if these were the same bears until lab results come back,” Tim Holt of the Arizona Game and Fish Department said.  “At this time, we are not willing to speculate on that.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Supreme Court Upholds Controversial Part of Arizona Immigration Law

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Police officers in Arizona are allowed to check the immigration status of every person who is stopped or arrested, the Supreme Court ruled Monday morning.  But the court struck down other key parts of the law.

The controversial immigration law passed in Arizona two years ago and has been opposed by President Obama.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the policy could interfere with federal immigration law, but that the court couldn't assume that it would.

The law -- known as SB 1070 -- was signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer in April 2010, but immediately challenged by the Obama administration.  A lower court sided with the administration and agreed to prevent four of the most controversial provisions from going into effect.

Besides the "show me your papers" provision, another criminalizes unauthorized work, a third makes it a state crime to fail to carry immigration papers, and a fourth allows the warrantless arrests when an officer has probable cause to believe a person has committed an offense that would result in deportation.

Other measures of the law were struck down, including a provision that made it a crime for undocumented immigrants to be in Arizona or seek work in the state.

In court, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. argued that the Constitution gives the federal government authority over immigration control and that the Arizona law interfered with existing federal law.

Verrilli said that while the federal government welcomes the assistance of state officers, Arizona is trying to adopt its own immigration policy while paying no heed to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the principal federal immigration statute that establishes the scheme for the regulation of immigration.

But Paul Clement, arguing on behalf of Arizona, argued that the law was passed because states are frustrated with the federal government's efforts to curb illegal immigration. Clement said that the Arizona law was drafted to cooperate with existing federal law.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer Preps Police for Supreme Court Ruling

Ethan Miller/Getty Images(PHOENIX) -- Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer wants to be sure her law enforcement officers are ready for an upcoming Supreme Court decision.

Within the next two weeks, the Supreme Court will decide the fate of some key provisions of Arizona’s strict immigration law, SB 1070, and she hopes the justices will reverse a lower court that blocked four provisions from going into effect.

One section is referred to as the “show me your papers” provision, and it requires law enforcement officers to ask a person they’ve stopped for papers if the officer has a “reasonable suspicion” the person is in the country illegally.

The Obama administration challenged the law just after it was signed, and a lower court sided with the administration and blocked the provision from going forward.  The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case at the end of April and the federal government asserted that SB 1070 interferes with existing federal law.

Immigration groups are also challenging the law in the lower courts arguing that it will lead to racial profiling.

The Arizona Police Officers Standards and Training Board, charged with providing training guidelines for Arizona’s police officers, developed a video and training materials that were issued to officers after the law was signed two years ago.

Gov. Brewer has issued an executive order mandating that the materials are redistributed to law enforcement officers by the end of business on Friday.

A spokesperson for the governor said on Wednesday, "Gov. Brewer thinks this is an appropriate time to revisit the training and make certain that all Arizona law enforcement officers are informed on how to implement and enforce SB 1070 without violating civil rights or the Constitution.”

In her executive order, Brewer required that officers are trained on what constitutes “reasonable suspicion.”

According to the order, the materials will include a DVD and a training manual that will include “an explanation of documents law enforcement officers can use to determine whether identification presented to them is sufficient to presume a person is not an unlawfully present alien.”

The materials make clear, according to the executive order, “that an individual’s race, color or national origin alone cannot be grounds for reasonable suspicion to believe any law has been violated.”

Brewer stipulates that if the Supreme Court reverses the lower court and allows any of the provisions to go forward, the training materials will be supplemented within 30 days of the Supreme Court’s decision.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Police Seek Phoenix-Area Flashlight Bomber

Dick Luria/Photodisc/Thinkstock(PHOENIX) -- Three discarded flashlights-turned-bombs have exploded in the past month in the Phoenix area, injuring five people and prompting police to warn the public about the potential danger of discarded flashlights.

Authorities said they fear that whoever is making the devices will eventually increase the power of the improvised bombs, and someone might die.

Janelle McKee was at a Glendale, Ariz., strip mall on May 13 when she noticed a yellow flashlight sitting by a palm tree.  She picked it up, and when she turned it on, it exploded.

“It sounded like a shotgun, big loud boom,” McKee said, adding, “I definitely won’t be picking anything up off the ground anytime soon.”

A day later, a landscaper found a flashlight in a ditch and he, too, turned it on.  The device injured two people when it exploded.

There was another explosion on May 24 at a Salvation Army distribution center near downtown Phoenix.  Two people were injured.

“We often get very strange things that are donated, but we never get things that are donated with the purpose to do harm,” the Salvation Army’s Capt. John Desplancke said.

Authorities believe the alleged bomber has spent time thinking about the devices because the bombs have been placed in an object that people would instinctively turn on.

Authorities say the devices have fairly sophisticated circuitry.  The device is triggered when the flashlight is turned on, and the battery emits an electrical charge that ignites an explosive.

“Are we concerned that since there has been more than one?  Absolutely, we’re concerned,” Tom Atteberry, special agent in charge at the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in Phoenix, said.

“We do not want an innocent child or victim to pick one of these flashlights up and get injured or killed, so we take this very seriously,” he added.

Authorities have put up 22 billboards in the Phoenix area to warn residents that yellow flashlights could be dangerous and should not be touched.

Police believe the same person is responsible for all three attacks because the three flashlights that exploded had the same design and the chemical explosives.

The recovered flashlight bombs have been sent to a lab for testing.

The ATF is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the flashlight bombs.  Anyone with information is asked to call 1-888-ATF-BOMB (1-888-283-2662).

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Arizona Murder-Suicide Dad Had a Brain Tumor

File photo. Comstock/Thinkstock(TEMPE, Ariz.) -- Friends of an Arizona family that perished in a fiery murder-suicide said the father's brain tumor may have led him to kill his family, something completely out of character for a man who was remembered as "one of the nicest guys."

Tempe Police are remaining tight-lipped about the circumstances that led James Butwin, 47, to allegedly kill his wife, Yafit, 40; and three children Malissa, 16; Daniel, 14; and Matthew, 7.

Yael Ozair, 15, who was friends with Daniel and Malissa and knew the family, said she remembered hearing stories that the father was recently "speaking jibberish" and having trouble fighting a brain tumor.

"This whole thing is illness. I know it's not God," Ozair said. "The family is too good for this to be true."

Butwin was battling a brain tumor and in the middle of a divorce that was putting the normal strain of a separation on the entire family.

"Daniel said, 'It's really hard at my house right now because my parents are getting a divorce and they're always fighting,'" Ozair told ABC News.

The charred bodies were discovered on Saturday in a burnt SUV in the Arizona desert. The case gained national attention when Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu claimed the bodies were related to Mexican drug trafficking and used the case to criticize the Obama administration's border-security actions.

Authorities found evidence inside the Butwin family's home that leads them to believe it could be a murder-suicide, said Sgt. Jeff Glover of the Tempe Police Department. He declined to say what police found inside the home.

The family was reported missing by a friend who received a concerning note from James Butwin detailing how to run his real estate business.

Yafit Butwin filed for divorce on Sept. 22, 2011 and sought half of the couple's assets, despite a reported prenuptial agreement.

Despite Yafit Butwin's request that he leave the couple's home, James Butwin continued to reside there until the family's heartbreaking end.

More than 600 mourners packed Temple Emanuel, where Butwin was on the board, to participate in a Jewish service of grief on Wednesday.

Steven Gotfried, who was on the board with Butwin, said the rabbi addressed the common shock felt by the community.

"He said we were just in the beginning stages of shock and it will evolve and we will evolve together in the shock of this."

Funerals will be held at a later date.

Friends said they are leaning on each other, trying to cope with losing what one neighbor called "an amazing family with so much heart."

For Ozair, that means being with her tight-knit group of friends who went to school with Daniel and Malissa -- and writing. She penned a eulogy for the family.

"They always say the good die young, but the words tie the tongue," she wrote. "We wish we could have known, but it's too late as it is shown."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Five Bodies Found in Burned SUV Believed to Be Missing Family

Comstock/Thinkstock(TEMPE, Ariz.) -- Five bodies found in a burned SUV in the Arizona desert are likely a Tempe family who went missing after the father sent a co-worker a cryptic note about how to take over the family business, police said Tuesday.

The sheriff in Pinal County, where the burned-out SUV was found, initially said all signs indicated that it was likely related to Mexican drug cartel trafficking, but investigators have since learned that the white Ford SUV was registered to the business of James Butwin, at the family’s home address.

The coroner has not yet make a positive identification, but the fact that there were five bodies and all five members of the Butwin family have been missing since Saturday, along with evidence gathered at the family home, led police to suspect that they were the two parents and three children, Tempe Police Department Sgt. Jeff Glover said.

“From the evidence that our detectives were able to gather from the residence, they believe it is a murder-suicide,” Glover said.

Tempe police were not initially involved, since the bodies were found in Vekol Valley, a desert area in Pinal County that’s a well-known smuggling corridor for drugs and illegal immigrants from Mexico, but they contacted officials there after learning of the mysterious disappearance of the Butwin family, he said.

“It was a situation where a family acquaintance received a note or letter from James Butwin [the father] that indicated how to run the business, which caused concern,” Glover said. “They went over to the residence and couldn’t find anyone, and that’s when they called police.”

Glover identified the missing family only as James Butwin, his wife Yafit Butwin, and three children. He said he did not have specific ages for any of the family members, and said the children’s names were not being released.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Five Bodies Found in Arizona Related to Drug Cartels, Police Say 

Comstock/Thinkstock(VEKOL VALLEY, Ariz.) -- Five people found burned beyond recognition in an abandoned SUV in an area of Arizona frequented by smugglers were likely the victims of one of the same drug cartels that have ravaged parts of Mexico with their rampant violence, the local sheriff said today.

A border patrol agent noticed a white Ford Expedition stopping around 4:30 a.m. Saturday in Vekol Valley, a desert area that's a well-known smuggling corridor for drugs and illegal immigrants from Mexico. Suspecting the car stopped to pick up drugs, the agent tried to make contact with the vehicle, but the vehicle fled.

When the sun came up, the agent noticed car tracks leading off-road and followed them for a couple miles into the desert. The agent found a smoldering vehicle and called for back-up. When other agents arrived, they used fire extinguishers to put out the fire and found five charred bodies inside the car, police say.

"This is pretty significant," Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said. "Given all these indicators, you don't have to be a homicide detective to add up all this information."

One victim was found in the sedan's rear passenger seat and four others in the back cargo compartment, their bodies burned beyond recognition.

Investigators had not yet determined whether the bodies were bound, the sheriff said

Babeu told ABC News that it’s likely others fled the scene.

"There wasn't somebody in the front driver's seat or in the front passenger's seat and the position of the bodies lead us to believe that there's likely other people that were there," Babeu said.

Babeu said the deaths are being investigated as homicides.

"The vehicle was stopped in an open area. It did not crash into something. Clearly whoever murdered these people did it intentionally," he said. "They brought them there either alive or dead and torched the vehicle in an effort to conceal evidence."

Babeu said the incident is likely a case of drug cartel violence.

"This is more than likely connected to drug smuggling," he said. "It's not likely human smuggling because most of the time if illegals are no longer of use or too slow for the rest of the group, they're left to fend for themselves or die. We don't see many cases where illegals are killed. They're usually only killed if they put up a fight as they're being robbed.

"This is more likely either punishment on criminals who tried to steal from the cartels or some competing interest in a criminal element."

Babeu said investigators will try to determine whether the victims were dead before the fire was started or whether they were alive when the SUV was set ablaze.

The Vekol Valley is located 70 miles north of the U.S.-Mexican border. Babeu called the area a "hotbed for human and drug smuggling."

The federal government put up 15 billboards that read "Danger Warning, Travel Not Recommended, Drug Smuggling, Active and Armed Gunmen" in the area along Interstate 8.

Last year, the Vekol Valley was the site of the largest drug bust in the history of Arizona.

Seventy-six members of the Sinaloa cartel were arrested in the bust, known as Operation Pipeline Express. The suspects had 108 weapons, including scoped rifles, AK47s and two weapons from the U.S. government's Fast and Furious program.

The controversial program, run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, was designed to track guns bought in the United States by strawmen and delivered to drug cartels in Mexico, in an attempt to catch the cartel higher-ups. Begun in 2009, it was shut down after the December 2010 murder of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, who was killed with a weapon sold through the program.

Babeu said the fact that the Fast and Furious guns were found in the possession of the Sinaloa cartel members is a sign that the program is "criminal."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio