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After teens get probation in deadly tragedy, family and prosecution speak out

Isaac Benitez.png
Posted at 6:08 PM, Jul 08, 2024

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

His loved ones are outraged. They say Isaac’s alleged killers got off easy when they were sentenced to probation just weeks ago.

The Benitez family was among those who rallied against Pima County Attorney Laura Conover this morning at the Pima County Historic Courthouse in downtown Tucson. They are calling for change and for challenger Mike Jette to be elected later this month.

The prosecution offered plea deals Antonio Castro and Anthony Duran, who were in the car that dragged Benitez. They pleaded guilty to reduced charges: negligent homicide for Castro, manslaughter for Duran.

“[Isaac’s family] certainly have every right to maintain that justice has not been served. They have suffered a tremendous loss,” said Deputy Pima County Attorney Chris Ward, who was the prosecutor in the case.

He says he argued for prison time at sentencing, but the judge decided against it. Ward still argues the prosecution needed to offer probation-available pleas.

“We were afraid that at a jury trial, one or both defendants would be found not guilty,” he explained. “Our belief was that one or more jurors could’ve come to the conclusion that this was kind of along the lines of an accidental, instead of an intentional or dangerous reckless conduct.”

Ward says the investigation found this was a gun deal gone wrong. Benitez was selling a gun to Duran. Once he handed it over to Duran in the passenger seat, Castro took off in the car, with Benitez hanging on.

“To our understanding of the evidence, the investigation of Pima County Sheriff was that [Benitez] was not beaten, he was not kicked, he was not run over. He fell off the vehicle and that’s how he sustained his injuries,” said Ward.

But the Benitez family’s outcry is already part of Jette’s campaign for County Attorney. Isaac’s father says in a recent TV campaign ad, “Laura Conover failed Isaac. Laura Conover failed my family.”

Conover responded in a statement Monday to KGUN on Monday:

“The loss of a child is heartbreaking. It defies the natural life order. I am grateful to our Victim advocates who are so helpful to victims processing pain. But in recent days, and again this morning we have seen Victim grief exploited for political gain in tv campaign ads and speeches. That is appalling and beneath the dignity of this office."
Laura Conover, Pima County Attorney

Other families stood united with the Benitez family at the rally Monday morning. Part of their call-to-action included bringing attention to the amount of homicides reported over the past few weeks.

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

“Our stories and our voices will be heard, so that this will stop,” said Janeé Page, a domestic violence survivor.

Several families shared their stories and why they stand against another term with Laura Conover as Pima County Attorney.

Families gather to advocate for a safer community

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

The Torres family mourned the loss of Luie Torres, who was 20 years old when he died in a car crash, according to his mother, Ruth Torres. She said the other driver is still walking free.

Speaking only Spanish, Ruth Torres believed her son didn't get justice because they didn't understand her pain as a mother. Three years later, she said she won't stop fighting for change. She added how she believed that wouldn't happen if Laura Conover is re-elected.

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

It’s important for the public to know, especially in light of so much misinformation, that the Pima County Attorney's Office is staffed with experienced and dedicated prosecutors, paralegals, legal assistance, detectives, and victim advocates. In fact, my right hand, the Chief Deputy, and Chief of Staff for the People’s Office is a career prosecutor who previously ran the entire city prosecutor's office for years.

This is an established office that holds people accountable for harm, and when the accusation is homicide, which includes all levels of homicide, every single one of those cases is examined and discussed by the homicide panel which is made up of all senior attorneys and leadership in the office along with input from the victim's families every single time.

While not every case is going to resolve exactly in the way a family might like, especially given that judges make the final decisions, the public needs to know about the nearly 380 dedicated public servants inside this building. And, their hard work is paying off, because all markers of violent crime are dramatically down here in Pima County.”

Pima County Attorney Laura Conover

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Ryan Fish is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9 and comes to the Sonoran Desert from California’s Central Coast after working as a reporter, sports anchor and weather forecaster in Santa Barbara. Ryan grew up in the Chicago suburbs, frequently visiting family in Tucson. Share your story ideas and important issues with Ryan by emailing ryan.fish@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.

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Reyna Preciado is a reporter for KGUN 9, she joined the KGUN 9 team in July of 2022 after graduating Arizona State University. Share your story ideas with Reyna by emailing reyna.preciado@kgun9.com or by connecting on Instagram, or Twitter.