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Convicted killer claims he's innocent

Posted at 10:27 PM, Feb 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-26 11:18:21-05

More than a decade has gone by since that day in Kennedy park when police found two men shot dead. Crimes that put Eduardo Celaya in prison.

But since that deadly day, Celaya has maintained his innocence and continues to try and prove it from behind bars. 
 
"I can't put it in other words, it's just been a bad nightmare," said Celaya in a phone interview from prison. 
 
On October 21, 2005, a woman called 911 because she saw two men slumped over in a red car at Kennedy Park, located near Ajo Way and Mission Road.
 
Police later identified the victims as Humberto Enciso and Miguel Noriega Tanori, known drug dealers from Mexico.
 
The case remained open for nearly a year with few leads and no official suspects. Then in September, 2006 Celaya's nephew came forward and accused his uncle of killing the two men. 
 
"He had a lot of detail that he testified to that apparently the jury, the jury bought his story," said Robert Murray, Celaya's attorney during the trial.
 
When Celaya's nephew first spoke with police and then later at trial, he told a detailed story about how and why his uncle killed the two victims at Kennedy Park.
 
According to police records, the story starts at 3 a.m. the day of the murders when Celaya takes his nephew to a trailer park to pick up $74,000 in cash. His nephew tells police that Celaya owed the victims this money. Instead of paying them, Celaya kills them.
 
The murders took place sometime between 7 and 8 the morning of October 21, according to the nephew's story. Though the Pima County Medical Examiner couldn't determine an exact time of death.
 
After Celaya shoots the men, his nephew tells police that he picks up his uncle at a nearby Food City, they drive back to the nephew's apartment, Celaya attempts to destroy evidence and then he leaves.
 
But Celaya and his attorney say there's one problem with this story, Celaya was at work all day starting at sunrise. At the time he worked as a superintendent for a local construction company. 
 
"There are ample witnesses that say not only was he at his job and that they were with him but also that if he wasn't at his job, he was important enough in the construction food chain that his absence, people would have noticed it," said Assistant Pima County Public Defender David Euchner. "It would have made its way around and he would have been fired if he was gone for three hours."
 
One of those witnesses: Ramberto Rendon. Rendon testified during a 2013 evidentiary hearing that on the day of the murders, Celaya was training him to become a superintendent in the company. 
 
He testified that he and Celaya were together that entire day. He remembers because he said Celaya was in a hurry to leave work and go to Las Vegas with his family.
 
David Euchner, assistant Pima County Public Defender and Celaya's post-conviction attorney, asks Rendon during that hearing if it's possible that Celaya left for a couple of hours and went and did something else. Rendon answers "No." But this alibi defense was never used in Celaya's trial. We asked his trial attorney why. 
 
"I was fearful that it would come back on us really if the state had decided to use cell phone information i believe they could have proven where he was," said Murray. "And I have to say based on confidential information that I can't talk to you about, I thought that might happen." 
 
In addition to the nephew's testimony, the state also relied heavily on phone records between Celaya and one of the victims, Miguel Tanori. Tanori occasionally worked for Celaya, helping him with Celaya's personal horses. But he also supplied Celaya with recreational cocaine, something Celaya admits he used frequently at the time.
 
Records from Celaya's phone show that he called Tanori more than 30 times in the 24 hour period leading up to the murders. His last phone call took place at 7:42 a.m., right around the time that his nephew says the men were murdered. He doesn't call them again.
 
But what the jury at trial didn't hear is Celaya's explanation for those calls, that he was trying to buy cocaine for his weekend trip to Las Vegas. And when Tanori called back that morning, Celaya says he had confirmed his purchase.
 
"If I would have took the stand, I would of explained that but I never got that chance," said Celaya. 
 
He said he wanted to take the stand in his defense, but his attorney wouldn't allow it. We asked Murray about this decision. 
 
"I thought they would crucify him on cross examination," said Murray. "I mean what Eddie really says is that I told him 'you can't take the stand, I'm not going to let you' but of course that's not true. I thought it would be difficult for him to explain why he left town and if the prosecutor had caught on why the phone calls stopped when he had been calling continuously for two days." 
 
The last key piece of evidence that convicted Celaya: a bullet found in the floorboard of his work truck that a Tucson Police Criminalist testified was fired from the same gun that killed the two victims.
 
"If I had any doubts about my conclusions in this particular report I would have written it up as inconclusive," testified Anthony Windsor, who works in the Tucson Police Department crime lab, during a 2015 evidentiary hearing.
 
Police never found the murder weapon in this case. Euchner says a 2009 National Academy of Science report showed that the kind of firearm identification involved in this case is too subjective. 
 
"It was basically junk science and the only people who don't want to admit that are the prosecutors," said Euchner.
 
Celaya told KGUN9 in a phone interview that the bullet found in his truck was from 2002 when his gun jammed and misfired. He took the gun back to the pawn shop where he bought it and says the store told him the gun would be destroyed.
 
His trial attorney Robert Murray called ATF agents to the stand to testify to that. 
 
"They testified that he didn't have the weapon at the time of the murder," said Murray. 

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Meanwhile at a small home on the southwest side, the Celaya family sits down for dinner. But they know one person is missing.  

"You don't get used to it," said Celaya's daughter Jessica. "It's hard."
 
Jessica Celaya says they visit their dad every weekend in prison, spending the entire day there.
 
"We just have to support him and cheer him up," she said. 
 
"They've been very supportive because they know I'm innocent," said Eduardo Celaya via phone. "They know who I am and where I was the day of these incidents and they know that I would never take another man's life."
 
Since Celaya's conviction, he has gone through two evidentiary hearings to try and convince a judge that he deserves a new trial. Both times, he was denied. The judge wrote in the most recent denial that the evidence presented was not considered newly discovered evidence under the law, because it would not have changed the jury's verdict. Newly discovered evidence is one way a defendant can get a new trial. 
 
If Celaya serves his full sentence, he will be in his 80s by the time he could get parole. 
 
"It's not fair for me to be in here for something that I didn't do," he said. "And the person that's done these murders is out there living his life and I'm paying for his wrongs." 
 
Celaya's post-conviction attorney, David Euchner, says he plans to appeal the judge's decision and they are still pushing for a new trial. 
 
"He's already waited a decade for justice," said Euchner. "He might have to wait another decade." 
 
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The Arizona Justice Project is not currently working on Celaya's case but does have an interest and representatives attended one of Celaya's recent hearings. The Justice Project only takes clients who don't have legal counsel. Since Celaya is still represented by Euchner, he doesn't qualify.
 
The original Tucson Police Detective and the Pima County Attorney's Office declined to comment on this story because it is still going through the legal system.
 
Celaya remains at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Tucson. 

To read the full police report regarding this case, click here.