Phoenix serial killings suspect: ‘I’m innocent’

PHOENIX (AP) — The former city bus driver arrested in a string of 2016 serial killings that terrorized several Phoenix neighborhoods declared “I’m innocent” during a brief court hearing.

Aaron Saucedo appeared before a judge late Monday night and acknowledged that he understood the purpose of the court appearance to inform him of the allegations.

“I’m innocent” were the only other words he spoke during the appearance before a judge who agreed with a prosecutor that that Saucedo should be held without bond.

Police say Saucedo killed nine people and carried out 12 shootings from August 2015 and July 2016, targeting victims after dark and gunning them down as they stood outside their homes or sat in their cars. Most of the killings happened in a largely Latino neighborhood.

Police fielded thousands of tips, went door-to-door in seeking information and analyzed ballistics from a different, unrelated serial shooting case.

On Monday, they announced they had arrested Saucedo while providing scant detail about what motivated him or details about how they made a break in the case, other than to credit tips.

Details of the evidence police gathered implicating Saucedo were not available because a judge temporarily granted a prosecution request to seal records related to his case, court spokeswoman Karen Arra said.

She and Amanda Jacinto, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, said no information was immediately available on why prosecutors requested the records be sealed.

The investigation into the serial killings had focused on what authorities said were seven fatal shootings. But police on Monday announced they had tied Saucedo to nine killings in all — eight random victims and one man that he knew.

Witnesses described the shooter as a young, lanky Hispanic man who drove a BMW sedan, helping develop a composite sketch that bears a striking similarity to Saucedo. Police said Saucedo in fact did have a BMW but stopped driving it and changed his appearance after the final shooting.

Saucedo was a bus driver for the city of Phoenix through a temp agency for several months in 2015, Phoenix police said. Records show he was pulled over for allegedly running a red light on Oct. 27, 2015, more than two months after the first shooting.

Police said would give out a $75,000 reward offered for tips to help solve the case, but declined to say whether the money would go to one person or more people.

The case finally broke when Saucedo was arrested last month in connection with the August 2015 fatal shooting of 61-year-old Raul Romero, who had a relationship with Saucedo’s mother. Authorities investigated Saucedo more closely and connected him to the serial killings.

Saucedo has pleaded not guilty in that killing. The Associated Press was unable to reach Saucedo’s public defender on Monday.

Police say that after Romero’s killing, Saucedo struck again about four months later in killing 22-year-old Jesse Olivas, who was gunned down on New Year’s Day 2016 while standing in front of a home.

The suspect then went on a killing spree from March of last year through July, police said.

All of the killings were random except for the first one, Williams said. “We hope that our community will rest a little easier and that our officers will get a little more sleep knowing that the wheels of justice are finally in motion,” she said.

Gisela Castro, the mother of shooting victim Manuel Castro-Garcia, said news of the arrest felt like she was reliving the day she was told her son had been killed. Castro-Garcia, 19, was fatally shot on June 10, 2016.

“For one part I’m happy because there’s going to be justice in my son’s death and others’ deaths and that person is not gonna do more damage. But my son is not coming back,” Castro said. “I waited every day for justice, but things don’t change. The pain is the same.”

Castro said her son was a noble person who studied and worked hard and was loved by everyone he knew. She said he was never a trouble-maker and preferred playing basketball with friends over partying.

“The only thing I can say is thank God there’s going to be justice and we leave it in God’s hands. May God bless (Saucedo), and I’m not anybody to wish bad upon him,” she said.

Marina Smith, the partner of 21-year-old Diego Verdugo-Sanchez, who was gunned down on April 1, 2016, said she welcomed news of the arrest but was still struggling with his loss.

Smith was seven months pregnant with the couple’s child when Verdugo-Sanchez was fatally shot in front of a home.

Smith said she had grown frustrated over the past year as detectives kept her in the dark about the investigation. “The fact of them finding somebody, at least it was some type of news,” she said.

Police say Saucedo shot at two teenage boys on March 17, 2016, striking one of them in the arm. The suspect struck again the next day but didn’t kill anyone.

The next shooting didn’t happen until April 1, 2016, when Verdugo-Sanchez was fatally shot.

In the most recent attack on July 11, 2016, a 21-year-old man and his 4-year-old nephew escaped injury after the gunman shot at a vehicle they were sitting in.

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