PHOENIX, AZ (February 28, 2013) – After four days of deliberations, a Maricopa County jury has voted unanimously to sentence Joel Escalante Orozco (D.O.B. 1/30/1975) to death for violently killing a young mother in Phoenix in 2001. Orozco fled the country after the crime and was apprehended six years later after returning the U.S. He is also wanted for a separate murder in Mexico.
“The decision to seek the death penalty in this case was appropriate given the heinous and cruel manner in which this defendant robbed an innocent woman of her life in the presence of her young son,” said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. “I commend the jury for committing themselves to this long and sometimes difficult case and for ensuring that justice prevailed in the end,” he added.
Between 11:30pm on March 9, 2001 and 9:00am on March 10, 2001, Maria Garza-Rivera was sexually assaulted and killed inside her apartment in Phoenix. Her 3 year-old son was inside the apartment during the incident but was unharmed. Garza-Rivera was discovered dead in the bathtub with water running from both the showerhead and faucet. The screen to the front window of the apartment had been removed and was leaning below the window which was partially opened.
A witness reported seeing Joel Orozco talking to Garza-Rivera at around 11:30am on the morning of March 9. According to the witness, Garza-Rivera had a concerned look on her face. Orozco was a resident of the same apartment complex as the victim and was employed by the apartment complex to perform general labor and maintenance. At the time of the murder, he had been remodeling the unit occupied by Garza-Rivera. Efforts to locate and question Orozco after the murder were unsuccessful.
In May of 2007, the FBI notified the Phoenix Police Department that Joel Orozco was being detained in Blackfoot, Idaho on an immigration charge. The FBI had received information that Orozco was wanted in Phoenix and Mexico for two separate murders. Phoenix Police detectives travelled to Idaho to interview Orozco who denied killing and sexually assaulting the victim but admitted to working in her apartment. Orozco told police that he spent the night of the murder drinking with his brother-in-law and that he woke up in the apartment hallway covered in blood lying on top of the victim’s body unable to recall what happened or how he got there. He claimed his brother-in-law and sister-in-law may have had something to do with the murder as they were all in involved in a dispute over the occupancy of an apartment.
Orozco admitted to fleeing the crime scene without contacting authorities, throwing his clothing away, selling his car, and going to Mexico where he remained on the run until his federal detention for illegal entry into the U.S. in May of 2007. An analysis of a blood stain found on the window screen of Garza-Rivera’s apartment was subsequently determined to contain a mixture of Orozco’s and Garza-Rivera’s DNA. Investigators also learned that an arrest warrant had been previously issued in Mexico for Orozco’s arrest for allegedly murdering his niece.
On September 13, 2007, a Maricopa Grand Jury charged Orozco with one count of First Degree Murder, two counts of Sexual Assault and one count of Burglary. On January 16, 2013, after a 22-day trial, Orozco was found guilty of Murder, Burglary and one count of Sexual Assault. Deliberations on the penalty phase began on February 21, 2013 and concluded today.