Notwithstanding strong objections from a victim, a Cochise County judge accepted a plea agreement Friday to resolve two burglary cases, saying the deal serves the interest of justice even if it’s not what one of the victims wants.
Judge Laura Cardinal listened as the victim, referred to as Mr. W, expressed his displeasure with the plea deal which guarantees Jordan Andres Valenzuela will only serve two years in prison after Mr. W’s home was burglarized. Several firearms were taken as well as jewelry, including a necklace worth more than $25,000, according to the victim.
But Mr. W’s discontent during the Jan. 8 hearing involves more than the short prison term Valenzuela, 24, is guaranteed. The victim also let loose with his opinion about former prosecutor Yancey Garner, who left the Cochise County Attorney’s Office a few months ago to take a position with the Public Defender’s Office.
“He failed to do anything I requested,” the victim told Cardinal. “They’re protecting the criminals better than the victims. That’s why I am so disappointed.”
Court records show Mr. W previously objected to a proposed plea agreement which would have sent Valenzuela to prison for 3.5 years on one Class 4 felony, while 11 other counts in the indictment will be dismissed. However, defense attorney David Wilkison later finalized a deal with the Cochise County Attorney’s Office that called for only 2 years in prison.
Valenzuela signed the agreement Dec. 9 but Cardinal did not accept his pleas at that time because Mr. W. had not been properly notified as required by Arizona’s Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights. The parties came together last week for a hearing on whether the plea deal would be accepted by the court.
Chief Deputy County Attorney Lori Zucco took over the prosecution of Valenzuela’s case when Garner left. She admitted during Friday’s hearing that she was amiss in not conferring with Mr. W before signing off on a revised plea offer of two years.
After listening to Mr. W’s comments, Cardinal explained that the state constitution requires prosecutors and judges to consider the position of a victim on several issues, including plea deals. But that does not mean a victim can direct how the case will be prosecuted.
Cardinal then accepted Valenzuela’s pleas and set sentencing for Feb. 12, at which time Valenzuela will be given credit for more than 200 days he has been jailed pending resolution of the case.
Mr. W did, however, win a small victory during the plea hearing.
Valenzuela’s plea agreement listed $20,459 as the amount of restitution he owed even though the victim contends it should be closer to $100,000. Cardinal revised the plea deal to set the minimum restitution at $20,459 so Mr. W can present additional evidence at a future hearing in support of increasing the amount.
Court records show Valenzuela was indicted in Texas in 2015 for burglary although it is unclear how that case was resolved. He was also convicted in Texas of forgery, and was on probation in May 2018 when taken into custody in Sierra Vista by the U.S. Marshal Service on a nationwide felony fugitive warrant issued by a Texas judge.
Valenzuela was extradited to Texas but by April 2019 he was back in Arizona where he was charged with taking part in an armed robbery in Pima County. He spent nearly one year in jail awaiting resolution of that case, finally accepting a plea deal in February 2020 that called for Valenzuela to serve 1.5-years in prison.
The Arizona Department of Corrections shows Valenzuela completed their sentence in September 2020 but by then he was in the Cochise County jail after being indicted by a grand jury on multiple felonies related to the burglary of Mr. W’s home.
The second burglary case referenced in Valenzuela’s plea deal appears to stem from an incident which occurred while he was a probation absconder.