After teenager receives suspended sentence following fatal tragedy, family and prosecutor speak out

After teenager receives suspended sentence following fatal tragedy, family and prosecutor speak out
After teenager receives suspended sentence following fatal tragedy, family and prosecutor speak out

Last July, 17-year-old Isaac Benitez died after being dragged by a car in Flowing Wells.

His relatives are outraged. They say Isaac’s alleged murderers got off lightly when they were sentenced to probation a few weeks ago.

The Benitez family was among those protesting against Pima County District Attorney Laura Conover outside the historic Pima County Courthouse in downtown Tucson this morning, demanding change and the election of challenger Mike Jette later this month.

Prosecutors offered a plea deal to Antonio Castro and Anthony Duran, who were in the car that dragged Benitez. They pleaded guilty to a reduced charge: involuntary manslaughter for Castro and manslaughter for Duran.

“(Isaac’s family) certainly has every right to say that justice has not been served. They have suffered a tremendous loss,” said Pima County Assistant Prosecutor Chris Ward, who served as prosecutor in the case.

He said he argued for prison time at sentencing, but the judge decided against it. Ward continues to argue that prosecutors should offer suspended sentences.

“We were concerned that a jury trial would result in one or both defendants being found not guilty,” he explained. “We felt that one or more jurors might have concluded that this was an accidental rather than intentional or dangerous reckless conduct.”

Ward says the investigation shows it was an arms deal gone bad. Benitez sold Duran a gun. After handing it to Duran in the passenger seat, Castro sped off with Benitez in the car.

“Based on our understanding of the evidence, the Pima County Sheriff’s investigation determined that (Benitez) was not struck, was not kicked, and was not run over. He fell from the vehicle and sustained his injuries that way,” Ward said.

But the Benitez family’s outcry is already part of Jette’s campaign for district attorney. Isaac’s father said in a recent TV campaign ad: “Laura Conover failed Isaac. Laura Conover failed my family.”

Conover responded in a statement to KGUN on Monday:

“The loss of a child is heartbreaking. It goes against the natural order of life. I am grateful to our victim advocates who help victims process their pain. But in recent days and this morning, we have seen victims’ grief exploited for political purposes in television commercials and speeches. This is appalling and beneath the dignity of this office.”

Laura Conover, Pima County District Attorney

Other families joined the Benitez family at the rally on Monday morning. Their call included drawing attention to the number of murders reported in recent weeks.

Between June 1 and July 8, nine homicides were reported on the Tucson Police Data Dashboard.

“Our stories and our voices are being heard to make this stop,” said Janeé Page, a survivor of domestic violence.

Several families shared their stories and explained why they oppose another term for Laura Conover as Pima County District Attorney.

Families come together to advocate for a safer community

“We hope that with the names of the families, the names of the victims … Isaac’s name, we can make a difference,” Benitez said.

The Torres family mourned the loss of Luie Torres, who was 20 when he died in a car crash, according to his mother, Ruth Torres, who said the other driver was still at large.

Ruth Torres, who speaks only Spanish, believes her son did not get justice because they did not understand her pain as a mother. Three years later, she said she will not stop fighting for change, adding that she believes that will not happen if Laura Conover is re-elected.

In response to the rally Monday morning, Pima County District Attorney Laura Conover issued the following statement.

It is important for the public to know that the Pima County District Attorney’s Office – especially in light of the amount of misinformation – has experienced and dedicated prosecutors, paralegals, legal counsel, investigators and victim advocates. In fact, my right-hand man, the Chief Deputy and Chief of Staff of the Office of the Public Defender, is a career prosecutor who previously led the entire city’s District Attorney’s Office for years.

This is an established agency that holds people accountable for harm. And when the charge is manslaughter – and that includes all degrees of manslaughter – every single one of those cases is investigated and discussed by a Homicide Panel made up of all the senior attorneys and executives of the agency, and each time includes input from the victims’ families.

While not every case is resolved exactly the way a family would like, especially considering that judges make the final decisions, the public needs to know about the nearly 380 dedicated officers in this building. And their hard work is paying off because all indicators of violent crime have dropped dramatically here in Pima County.”

Pima County Attorney Laura Conover

Ryan Fish is a presenter and reporter at KGUN 9 and comes to the Sonoran Desert from California’s Central Coast after working in Santa Barbara as a reporter, sports anchor and weather forecaster. Ryan grew up in the Chicago suburbs and frequently visited his family in Tucson. Share your story ideas and important topics with Ryan via email [email protected] or by connecting on Facebook and Þjórsárden.

Reyna Preciado is a reporter for KGUN 9 and joined the KGUN 9 team in July 2022 after graduating from Arizona State University. Share your story ideas with Reyna via email [email protected] or by connecting on Instagram, or Þjórsárden.

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