Claudia Ann Lucero

Claudia Ann Lucero of Mesa was only 14 when she was brutally murdered just weeks before Christmas in 2013.

It took Mesa police only a day to arrest a suspect in the brutal murder of a 14-year-old girl, but it’s taking seven years and counting to bring him to trial.

Alex Anthony Madrid, 37, faces a potential death sentence in the rape and murder of Claudia Ann Lucero, a ninth-grader at Westwood High School whose body was found wrapped in a rug in a dumpster about two miles from her home on Dec. 6, 2013. 

DNA tied Madrid, who was arrested later that day, to the slaying. 

He was an obvious suspect from the start.

The victim’s mother Joann Lucero had broken up with Madrid and booted him out of their apartment a few weeks earlier after Claudia had reported to friends that she feared him, according to court documents.

Claudia had accused Madrid of touching her inappropriately and he “had forcibly made her touch his genitals,’’ according to the court documents.

But Madrid’s trial on charges including first-degree murder, sexual conduct with a minor, and abandonment of a dead body seems a long way off, despite a Nov. 1 trial date.

Two weeks ago, the newly appointed defense team said they have not yet received 30 boxes of case documents.

Madrid is on his third set of attorneys since June.

Veteran defense attorney Dan Raynak was dismissed at his request after citing conflicts with Madrid. Attorney Dan Patterson, his initial replacement, cited the same problem.

Madrid’s latest defense team is composed of Marci Kratter and Albert Morrison. Typically, appointment of new attorneys can cause months of delays because they need time to study the case and consider potential defenses.

The delays are commonplace in capital cases, where there is a limited pool of defense attorneys qualified to handle them and court rules require two prosecutors and two defense attorneys on the case.

Court records reveal that Madrid, a laborer with a history of arrests, attempted to end the case himself by giving the prosecution a 26-page letter in which he sought a life sentence in exchange for a guilty plea.

The letter appears to have been sealed by the court, but a prosecution filing contains some insight into its contents.

“Defendant on Nov. 16, 2018, sent the state a 26-page letter requesting ‘a life plea in this matter.’ The state considered his request and decided not to accept his offer,’’ the prosecution motion said, giving no reason for the rejection.

“Defendant’s 26-page letter is defense counsel’s thoughts and impressions on what the evidence shows and why it justifies a plea,’’ the prosecution motion said. “Nothing contained in the letter is admissible evidence of mitigation because it is the defense counsel’s thoughts.’’

If a defendant is convicted of first-degree murder in a capital case, a jury must then weigh aggravating and mitigating factors that could determine a sentence of life or death.

In Madrid’s case, the state is alleging a series of aggravating factors, including that he is an adult and Claudia was a child and that Claudia’s murder was cruel, heinous or depraved.

The state says in the motion that the proper time to discuss the plea offer is in the penalty phase, before a jury decides whether the sentence.

Claudia was last seen alive at about 6:30 a.m. Dec. 5 when she was getting ready for school, but she never showed up to attend classes. 

 When her mom returned home, she found no sign of forced entry, but Claudia had apparently left behind some items she normally would have taken with her.

Joann Lucero filed a missing person report shortly before 8 p.m. that same day, after none of Claudia’s friends reported seeing her. 

The bad news arrived early the next morning when two women looking for aluminum cans in a dumpster found Claudia’s body, according to the court records.

Claudia’s purse, identification, some of her books and some clothing typically worn by a teenager also were found inside the dumpster, according to the court records.

Police initially arrested Madrid on a probation violation stemming from a marijuana possession case. 

Bobbi Falduto, one Madrid’s previous attorneys, questioned in a motion whether it’s possible for prosecutors to prove that Claudia Lucero’s murder was especially cruel.

She said the Medical Examiner’s Office, which ruled that Claudia was strangled to death, could not say for a fact when she passed out and if she was conscious during the attack.

“Considering the Medical Examiner’s uncertainty about Claudia’s unconsciousness, and any lack of physical defensive wounds or struggle, any finding of cruelty under these circumstances is not appropriate,’’ Falduto wrote.

Mesa Police Commander Ed Wessing, who worked in the homicide unit when Claudia was murdered, looks at her slaying much differently.

“That’s one of the true innocent victims. It’s sad,’’ Wessing said.

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