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Suspect accused in 2009 Phoenix murders to be released following mistrial

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By CARISSA PLANALP

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    PHOENIX, Arizona (KPHO, KTVK) — A suspected killer is a free man after a series of mistakes during his trial. Elton Jardines is expected to be released from jail Wednesday after going on trial for the murder of two Valley women.

“He took all my tomorrows away from me. I can never touch her, hug her, hear her voice, nothing,” says Donna Rangel, mother of Joanna Lopez.

Lopez and her friend Crystal Arrona were killed in a shooting on May 31, 2009. The two were having a girls’ night out with some other friends when they stopped at the QuikTrip near 27th and Northern avenues. Investigators say there was an argument with another group of people, and Jardines pulled a gun and shot four women. Lopez and Arrona did not survive.

“I missed all those times that I should have had with her,” says Marissa Arrona, who was only 10 years old when she lost her mom, Crystal. “I never really thought about my life and having peace in it because it’s always been chaotic.”

The shooting sparked an international manhunt. The search for Jardines was featured on John Wash’s “The Hunt.” In 2018, the U.S. Marshal Service tracked down Jardines in Mexico and brought him back to Maricopa County to face trial.

The Lopez and Arrona families were confident justice would be served, but problems with the case started with concerns a witness may have seen critical evidence on the prosecutor’s laptop. Judge Jennifer Ryan-Touhill declared a mistrial despite objections from the prosecution and defense.

“Sometimes the criminal justice system does not work as we hope it will,” says Mel McDonald, a former Maricopa County prosecutor and retired Superior Court judge.

McDonald says declaring a mistrial when neither side asked for one is extremely rare, but he says he can understand how the judge came to that decision. After the mistrial, it was determined double-jeopardy came into play, which means Jardines cannot be retried. As a result, Jardines had to be released.

“A mistake that a judge made resulted in a decision and it can’t be corrected,” says McDonald. “I’m sure if she realized that this would be the consequence, she would not have taken the action.”

“These wounds keep getting open and today that wound is really big for me right now,” says Rangel. Arrona’s family, however, is refusing to give up.

“Why can’t a judge be held accountable?” says Arrona’s cousin, Vernique Jenkins. Jenkins says she is exploring options to pursue Jardines through civil litigation. She wants to take up activism to bring awareness to court procedures that can rob families of justice.

Both families are torn apart, knowing the suspected killer is back out. “It makes me so angry and sad that he’s just going to go on with his life as if nothing happened,” says Arrona. “Like he didn’t destroy hundreds of peoples’ lives.”

Prosecutors could ask the Arizona Supreme Court to review the case. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office addressed this in a statement:

“The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office is committed to seeking justice for the families impacted by this tragic and senseless crime. Unfortunately, the court of appeals ruled that we could not retry the case. After reviewing their decision, we do not believe that we would prevail on appeal and therefore, continuing to litigate this issue is not a responsible use of the office’s resources.” Arizona’s Family reached out to Jardines’ attorney. He did not have any comment on the trial’s outcome.

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