On June 24, 1992, a shooting at El Grande Market in South Tucson, Arizona left three men dead – the store manager, his uncle, and a clerk. For months, no one was charged with the murders.
On September 2, police arrested Christopher McCrimmon
and Andre Minnitt for robbing Mariano’s Pizza. Prosecutors suspected McCrimmon and Minnitt of involvement with the El Grande murders, but had no evidence. Then they discovered Keith Woods, a friend of McCrimmon’s. Woods had been released from prison on August 21, only to be arrested for possessing cocaine a few days later — a parole violation that subjected him to a prison sentence of 25-years-to-life. In interviews with detectives, Woods said that McCrimmon and Minnitt told him they had committed the murders with a 17-year-old named Martin Soto-Fong. The three men were arrested and charged with the crimes. Police did not pursue parole violation charges against Woods.
McCrimmon and Minnitt were tried together in 1993. Apart from Woods’s testimony, there was little evidence connecting the two men to the murders. At trial, prosecutor Kenneth Peasley attempted to enhance Woods’s credibility, claiming that police knew nothing about the three defendants until Woods offered information about them, and that Woods knew things that he “could get only from those people who were directly involved” in the murders. Both men were convicted of murder and sentenced to death on November 29, 1993. However, after the verdict had been read, the judge conducted a customary polling of the jury, asking each if he or she agreed with the verdict. When one juror wavered, the judge questioned him further and he finally agreed to the guilty verdict. In 1996, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that this juror had been coerced by the judge, and remanded the case for retrial.
McCrimmon and Minnitt were retried separately in 1997. At McCrimmon’s trial, which took place a few days after Minnitt’s, the defense attorney proved that a police investigator had given perjured testimony and that Peasley had been aware of it.
Peasley’s claim that investigators knew nothing about McCrimmon and Minnitt until they interviewed Woods was discredited by transcripts of the interviews, in which the suspects are first mentioned not by Woods, but by the police. After just 45 minutes of deliberation, McCrimmon was acquitted in September, 1997. He remains in prison on unrelated charges.
Minnitt’s 1997 trial ended in a hung jury. In 1999, he was again convicted and sentenced to death, but in 2002, the Arizona Supreme Court vacated the conviction based on evidence that, during Minnitt’s first trial, Peasley had intentionally elicited false testimony. The Court ruled that another trial would violate Minnitt's constitutional protection against double jeopardy.
Soto-Fong was convicted in 1993 and sentenced to death, but he was later removed from death row because he was a juvenile at the time of the crime. McCrimmon’s defense attorney, Rick Lougee, filed a formal complaint against Peasley, and on May 28, 2004, Peasley was disbarred.
– Alexandra Gross