One of the two suspects in the Valley’s Serial Shooters killing spree pleaded guilty to two murders and agreed to testify against his friend in a surprise deal announced Friday by prosecutors.
Samuel Dieteman confessed to the murders of Robin Blasnek of Mesa and Claudia Gutierrez Cruz of Scottsdale, each of whom were gunned down in random shootings in mid-2006.
Dieteman also said he would take the stand against his former roommate, Dale Hausner, who is scheduled for trial in September on seven first-degree murder charges and a host of others.
In exchange, Dieteman got nothing. Maricopa County prosecutors still plan to ask a jury to sentence him to death.
But if the jury decides to spare him, the 32-year-old will have to spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance of parole, according to the terms of the agreement.
“One could construe this as him throwing himself on the mercy of the court,” said Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas at an afternoon news conference.
The fact that he is cooperating in the case will be shown to the jury as a possible reason to spare his life, Thomas said.
The deal also “significantly strengthened” the case against Hausner, who has pleaded not guilty to his charges, Thomas said.
The case overall hit a speed bump recently when a key witness, Ron Horton, fell ill and died unexpectedly. Horton was the person who first tipped off police to the identities of the men after Dieteman reportedly made a bar-stool confession to him.
Thomas would not talk about what kind of testimony Dieteman agreed to give or how prosecutors convinced him to take the deal, but at least this much was clear: It brought relief, for now, for some of the victims.
“If that’s what they had to do to get Dieteman to testify against Hausner, then I’m all for it,” said Daryl Davies, a Phoenix man who survived one of the shootings.
Davies said he still has shotgun pellets in his arm and abdomen from the May 31, 2006, shooting linked to the case. Doctors considered it too risky to pull some of the pellets out, so he has to live with them, he said.
The shooting also left him wary of walking outdoors at night, because that was the time of day he was shot.
Davies said he hoped Dieteman would get the death penalty to endure some of the anxiety he has had to live with.
“It’s not the life for me,” Davies said. “It wasn’t the life I intended.”
Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon said the deal began to lift the lingering pall of the case from the victims and the rest of the Valley.
“While it’s hard to say much that is good about a serial shooter case, this is probably as good a day as it could be,” he said, speaking alongside Thomas at the news conference.
“I’m confident that the county attorney will receive a conviction on the co-conspirator, and hopefully his life will be ended by the state,” Gordon said.
The two murders to which Dieteman pleaded guilty were the only ones with which he was charged. He also pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit murder.
The killings are thought to be the only ones that took place in the East Valley.
Family members of Blasnek and Cruz could not be reached for comment.
Blasnek was killed July 30, 2006, while walking to her boyfriend’s house near Stapley Drive and Brown Road in Mesa.
Cruz was killed May 2, 2006, near 54th Street and Thomas Road in Scottsdale, while walking to a nearby grocery store. When it happened, she was about two miles away from where a teen, the shooters’ youngest victim, had been shot and injured just two hours earlier.
Isatu Kabba, the mother of that teen, said she was happy to hear the news.
Her son, Kibili Tambadu, is almost finished with high school and has a job, but is still uncomfortable walking or driving anywhere alone, she said.
As of the midday, Tambadu hadn’t heard of the plea deal, but he would be ecstatic to find out, she said.
“It’s just not my son he hurt,” Kabba said. “He hurt a lot of people. It’s good to take him off the street so he can’t hurt other people.”
Tribune writer Mike Sakal contributed to this report.