A Tucson man convicted of first-degree murder for an October 2015 fatal shooting is not entitled to a new trial, according to a ruling announced last week by the Arizona Court of Appeals.
Juan Carlos Becerra was sentenced in 2018 to life in prison without possibility of release for 25 years for the Oct. 19, 2015 killing of Gerardo Camacho during an incident involving an imposter police car. He appealed the conviction and sentence, arguing that a judge should have suppressed evidence seized from Becerra’s house during an investigation into another assault.
In a 3-0 decision released Jan. 30, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s ruling that allowed a jury to hear testimony about the evidence. It was also proper, the judges ruled, for the jury to see a photograph found on Becerra’s phone of various weapons, even though none proved to be the rifle used in Camacho’s killing.
Witnesses told police the Camacho’s Honda was pulled over late in the evening by a black Chevrolet passenger car with red and blue lights, which they believed was a squad car. A white Dodge pickup truck then pulled in front of the Honda, preventing the car from leaving.
Several masked men with guns exited the Chevrolet and Dodge, after which Camacho was shot in the head. A woman in the car was struck in the face by broken glass and ran away from the scene. Another of the Honda’s occupants eventually drove the car, with Camacho’s body inside, to a gas station on S. Nogales Highway to call police.
The murder was the third incident in a week on Tucson’s southside in which a dark colored Chevrolet with police lights was linked to illegal activity. On October 17, a man reported someone driving a black Chevrolet sedan with a police siren tried to conduct a traffic stop. The Chevrolet drove away before making contact with the man, but he was able to get a look at the driver and called 911.
A few days earlier, a woman claimed Becerra got out of a black Chevrolet “with red and blue lights flashing in the grill” and put a handgun to her head. The weapon misfired when Becerra pulled the trigger so he beat her with the gun instead, she told police.
Detectives later received a tip that the imposter police car – identified as a Chevrolet Impala- could be found at the southwest Tucson residence of one of Becerra’s friends. A subsequent search of Becerra’s home turned up more evidence, including numerous weapons and a title for a white Dodge pickup. However, the rifle used to murder Camacho was never located.
Becerra wasn’t indicted until August 2016. He challenged the search warrant used to search his residence, arguing police had no probable cause to believe evidence connecting him to the attack on the woman would be in his home, or that he was tied to the Chevrolet. He also contended the search warrant did not describe “with sufficient specificity and accuracy” what investigators were looking for.
A Pima County judge disagreed and ruled the seized evidence was admissible. Becerra was convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping, two counts of armed robbery, and two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon following a July 2018 jury trial in Pima County Superior Court.
After sentencing, Becerra filed an appeal, arguing again that there was insufficient probable cause for a judge to issue the search warrant which led to his arrest. The appellate court rejected that argument, ruling the “totality of the circumstances” as described by investigators when they applied for the search warrant supported a probable cause finding that Becerra was involved in Camacho’s murder and the assault of the woman a few days earlier.
The court also ruled “a reasonably prudent person” would find probable cause that evidence of those crimes might be found at Becerra’s residence. As a result, the appellate judges affirmed the jury’s verdicts and Becerra’s sentence.