Suspect released after DNA testing - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Suspect released after DNA testing

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Posted: Tuesday, October 14, 2003 10:13 am | Updated: 1:24 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

DNA taken from the tape that bound a slain Mesa man has led to the release from jail of one of two men accused in the murder.

And while Robert Vasquez, 27, waits to hear whether the state will refile murder charges against him, his former co-defendant is to be sentenced Oct. 20 on a conviction of first-degree murder and kidnapping.

According to court documents, three witnesses told detectives with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office they saw Vasquez and Robert Morales, 30, beat and abduct John "J.D." Caldwell, 18, shortly before midnight on June 20, 2001.

A passing motorist found Caldwell’s body about 5:30 a.m. June 21, 2001, beside Bush Highway.

"He had been murdered by gunshot wounds and his hands and feet were bound by duct tape," detective Rudy Acosta wrote in court paperwork.

One of the witnesses to Caldwell’s kidnapping, Elizabeth Herrera, told sheriff’s detectives that Morales said Vasquez emptied an entire clip of bullets into Caldwell, which Vasquez denies, documents state.

The men were arrested in January 2002.

The apparent motive was a mix of jealousy over a woman who dated Morales and Caldwell at different times and Caldwell hanging Morales out to dry in transactions involving stolen cars, according to documents filed by the prosecution.

Prospective buyers assaulted Morales a few weeks before the slaying when Caldwell didn’t deliver the stolen cars, documents state.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James Keppel ordered separate trials for legal reasons, and a jury convicted Morales Aug. 22.

That is when two of three witnesses who originally said they saw the abduction recanted their statements and refused to testify at Vasquez’s trial, court documents show.

Deputy Maricopa County attorney Michael Bailey wrote in a motion that since he was left with only one cooperating witness he had further DNA testing done on the duct tape used to restrain Caldwell.

"Along with full or partial profiles of already known persons, an unknown, although weak, DNA profile was found on the newly tested duct tape," Bailey wrote.

The state is comparing the new DNA profile with those of the people who are known to either be involved in the kidnapping or were there when it occurred.

Vasquez’s attorney, Robert Storrs, said previously tested duct tape contained the DNA of Morales and one other person known to have been at the abduction, but not his client.

The importance of the recently found, unknown DNA is that it calls into question Herrera’s statement about who was at the kidnapping.

With the trial two days away and an approaching deadline pertaining to Vasquez’s right to a speedy trial, Keppel granted Bailey’s request to dismiss the case Sept. 8.

Keppel’s order allowed for charges to be refiled.

Nicole Pena, a spokeswoman with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, said the status of the DNA comparison was not available Friday because Bailey could not be reached, and Storrs said he hasn’t been informed of the status.

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