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Posted Sep 8, 2011, 10:41 am
Former Deputy County Attorney Kenneth Peasley, long one of the most controversial figures in the Pima County justice system, has died at age 64.
Peasley "passed away peacefully at home" about 9 p.m. Wednesday, "battling an aggressive cancer," according to an internal Pima County Sheriff's Department memo.
Peasley, who had been struggling with health issues for years, was disbarred in 2004 for allowing a Tucson police detective, Joe Godoy, to lie while testifying in two capital murder trials.
"Peasley violated his duty as a prosecutor to seek justice," Justice Michael D. Ryan wrote in the disbarment opinion.
"By presenting false testimony in the prosecution of two defendants charged with capital murder, Peasley violated one of the most important duties of a lawyer," Ryan wrote.
The case stemmed from the trials of Andre Minnitt and Christopher McCrimmon in a 1992 triple slaying at the now-defunct El Grande Market, near South Park Avenue and East 36th Street.
A state Disciplinary Commission found that Peasley elicited false testimony in the 1993 trial and again in a 1997 retrial.
Recently, a federal judge ruled that a third El Grande defendant, Martin Soto-Fong, could ask the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to decide whether he should get a new trial because of Godoy's perjured testimony.
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Soto-Fong's three death sentences eventually were overturned because he was 17 at the time of the offenses. He remains in prison with life sentences.
Tucson defense attorney Rick Lougee, who vigorously defended Soto-Fong for years, had no comment on Peasley's death, according to a woman answering Lougee's office phone.
The Arizona Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Andre Minnitt, 22 at the time of the slayings, and dismissed the charges against him because of Peasley’s actions.
Christopher McCrimmon, who was 20 at the time of the slayings, was acquitted at a second trial in the case.
Minnitt and McCrimmon are serving sentences for another armed robbery and are scheduled for release in 2028 and 2022, respectively.
A Tucson Police Department investigation cleared Godoy, but he left the force.
Up to his disbarment, Peasley was a superstar in the Pima County Attorney's Office. Even after the State Bar of Arizona issued an investigation into the El Grande case, County Attorney Barbara LaWall promoted Peasley to Chief Criminal Deputy.
Peasley was the subject of a 2005 New Yorker article, "Killer Instincts," that included praise as well as criticisms for his legal prowess. Peasley himself bragged about having sent more men to death row in Arizona than any other prosecutor.
After his admission to the bar in 1974, Peasley prosecuted nearly 250 felony cases, including 140 homicides. He was the prosecutor in 60 death-penalty cases.
Peasley retired in 2003 after the Disciplinary Commission said he should be disbarred.
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After his disbarment, Peasley worked as a paralegal.
Funeral arrangements have not been finalized, the Sheriff's Department said.
A.J. Flick is an experienced criminal justice reporter, author of a book to be published next year on notorious Arizona crimes and a member of the steering committee for the Coalition of Arizonans to Abolish the Death Penalty.