A “suspected” killer is a free man thanks to Judge Jennifer Ryan-Touhill, who declared a mistrial despite screams from both the prosecution and defense. One former jurist thinks she should have considered the consequences but didn’t. So, now the victims are stuck with it.
Judge sets killer free
You may have seen the case on John Wash’s “The Hunt.” In 2018, the Marshal Service tracked down Elton Jardines in Mexico, then hauled him back to Maricopa County for trial.
It was a total waste of time, money and manpower reaching back a full 11 years. Justice will never be served now. The judge in the case made a radically controversial decision. One that many people believe was a horrible mistake.
On May 31, 2009, Joanna Lopez and her friend Crystal Arrona were “having a girls’ night out with some other friends when they stopped at the QuikTrip near 27th and Northern avenues” in Phoenix, Arizona.
Investigators say “there was an argument with another group of people.” That’s when Jardines “pulled a gun and shot four women.” Lopez and Arrona were killed. Their suspected killer is a free man after Judge Jennifer Ryan-Touhill declared a mistrial. She did it “despite objections from the prosecution and defense.”
Former Maricopa County prosecutor and retired Superior Court judge Mel McDonald explains that these things happen from time to time. “Sometimes the criminal justice system does not work as we hope it will.” He notes that “declaring a mistrial when neither side asked for one is extremely rare.”
He does “understand how” Ryan-Touhill came to her decision though. After she made it, things suddenly went south. Following “the mistrial, it was determined double-jeopardy came into play, which means Jardines cannot be retried. As a result, Jardines had to be released.”
It can’t be corrected
According to McDonald, “A mistake that a judge made resulted in a decision and it can’t be corrected.” Hindsight is always 20/20, they say. “I’m sure if she realized that this would be the consequence, she would not have taken the action.” As noted in news reports, “problems with the case started with concerns a witness may have seen critical evidence on the prosecutor’s laptop.”
The family wants to keep trying anyway. “Why can’t a judge be held accountable?” asks a cousin of Crystal Arrona, Vernique Jenkins. She’s “exploring options to pursue Jardines through civil litigation.” She also “wants to take up activism to bring awareness to court procedures that can rob families of justice.”
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office had their phone lines melt down with people demanding the decision of Judge Ryan-Touhill be sent up to the Arizona Supreme Court for review, so they issued a formal statement saying basically, “get over it.”
Their office, they write, “is committed to seeking justice for the families impacted by this tragic and senseless crime. Unfortunately, the court of appeals ruled that we could not retry the case. After reviewing their decision, we do not believe that we would prevail on appeal and therefore, continuing to litigate this issue is not a responsible use of the office’s resources.”
Donna Rangel, mother of Joanna Lopez, is heartbroken. “He took all my tomorrows away from me. I can never touch her, hug her, hear her voice, nothing.” Marissa Arrona, “who was only 10 years old when she lost her mom, Crystal” said she “missed all those times that I should have had with her. I never really thought about my life and having peace in it because it’s always been chaotic.”
The Lopez and Arrona families were both confident justice would be served but it seems we don’t have laws any more. At least none which are being enforced in front of a judge. “These wounds keep getting open and today that wound is really big for me right now,” Ms. Rangel adds.