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Pizza Hut Murders: Mysteries remain 20 years later

Senselessness stands out to investigators
Posted at 12:49 PM, May 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-23 12:23:50-04

TUCSON, Ariz. - Three people, working in a Pizza Hut, killed in one of Tucson's most brutal, and most puzzling murders.

Now, though 20 years have gone by the questions remain while one of the killers moves closer to his release.

Prosecutor Rick Unklesbay and retired Tucson Police Sergeant Russ Charlton had long careers handling hundreds of cases.

But the murders of Robert Curry, Melissa Moniz, and James Bloxham at the hands of Bo Huerstel and Tom Prasertphong stand out for both of them. For Unklesbay, part of it was the number of victims---three dead.

“The other thing was the total senselessness of this. I mean, these two could have robbed the Pizza Hut, gotten away, and left the three victims unharmed, but they chose to, to to kill all three of them for really no reason whatsoever. So the violence, that horrific nature of it, that was really something that stuck with stuck with me as well."

Retired TPD Sergeant Russ Charlton says, "Just the, in my opinion, the heinousness of it. It was so senseless, the whole circumstances, the so called reason for it happening.”

KGUN9 reporter Craig Smith: “You say so-called reason…”

Charlton: "It was a robbery. Wasn't a lot taken. Wasn't much there to take. I've been to a lot of homicides and this seemed to be one of the more senseless ones."

Prosecutor Rick Unklesbay says, “It was never explained. You know, they they blamed each other, both defendants, (said) I didn't really participate. It was the other one. And they just said, you know, he went off. And I don't know why he did this, we really never got an explanation for it."

It did not take long to make the arrests. Russ Charlton says the killers were talking about what they had done.

"My partner had gotten a phone call from somebody who had overheard a conversation from one or both these kids at a party.”

Death penalties for the two were overturned because of a court ruling that jurors should impose death, not the judge. Other errors led to a series of retrials that ended with Prasertphong sentenced to life and Huerstel pleading guilty to second degree murder. That will allow his release in eight years.

Unklesbay says they were in Huerstel's third murder trial when Huerstel’s defense team offered a deal to plead to second degree. Unklesbay conferred with the victims' families.

“My position was I thought we were in a good position to to succeed and get a guilty verdict. But I want to know what everybody wanted to do. And everybody was pretty concerned that you know, the third time around, there was no assurance that Huerstel was going to be found guilty. So collectively, we ultimately decided to accept his offer to plead guilty to 25 years."

But Russ Charlton, who helped put Huerstel behind bars thinks it will not be long before Huerstel is behind bars again.

"It just it seems like he's been in there. He's been around hardened criminals. He's pretty much institutionalized. So what's he gonna do when he gets out? Craig: So that's what what, what's your theory on what a guy like that could do? I think he's gonna re-offend."

And that would put Bo Huerstel back in the prison system for some other crime while Tom Prasertphong serves life in prison for the Pizza Hut Murders.