Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Bolton put to death for Zosha’s murder


The girl’s parents as well as family members of slain Cathy Fritz watch as a deadly mix of drugs takes the killer’s life.

FLORENCE – If Daren Lee Bolton had any remorse, he took it with him.

The former Catalina High School student died at 12:04 this morning, two minutes after a lethal three-drug mixture began flowing through an executioner’s needle and into his veins.

He offered no last words to Arizona Department of Corrections Director Terry Stewart. And as he lay strapped to a padded table waiting to die, his face was void of emotion.

Bolton, 29, was put to death less than four years after he was convicted of the 1986 kidnapping and murder of 2 1/2-year-old Zosha Lee Pickett.

He had also been set to go to trial in September for the 1982 murder of 7-year-old Cathy Fritz, a resident of the same midtown neighborhood where Zosha lived.

Though Bolton had many more avenues of appeal left, he volunteered to die, saying he would prefer death over life in prison. He always maintained his innocence in both Zosha’s and Cathy’s murders.

Five members of the Fritz family – Cathy’s father and her four brothers – were present at Bolton’s death today.

Only once did Bolton look at the witnesses.

When the curtain of the death chamber was opened, Bolton turned his head and for less than a second looked at Zosha’s parents, Allen Pickett and Linda Pickett Smith, who had a photo of Zosha strapped to her waist.

Bolton blinked his narrow eyes and looked away. He never acknowledged the witnesses again.

Clad in prison clothing, a blue cotton shirt and blue jeans, Bolton looked up at the ceiling. He also looked at Florence Prison Warden Meg Savage, who read aloud the Supreme Court warrant for his death.

He swallowed twice. Then the drugs started flowing. Sodium pentathol was the first dose, sedating Bolton, whose eyes twitched as he went to sleep.

Next, pancuronium bromide weakened his respiratory system, and potassium chloride stopped his heart.

Bolton’s lips fluttered and his abdomen heaved seven times. Stewart pronounced him dead.

The witnesses offered no outward reaction to his death. One by one they filed out of the death house into the warm night air and across a silent prison courtyard.

“The death that he just received was absolutely nothing compared to the terror and agony he put Zosha through,’ Allen Pickett told reporters after the execution.

“Zosha suffered a lot longer. There’s no comparison.’


It was during the night of June 27, 1986, that Linda Pickett went to check on her sleeping daughter Zosha.

The tiny, dimpled blond toddler wasn’t there.

One of the city’s largest manhunts ensued. It ended – in part – four days later when Zosha’s body was found in an abandoned taxicab on the northeast corner of East Dodge and East Speedway boulevards, two blocks from the Pickett home.

The search for Zosha’s killer lasted 4 1/2 years.

During a chance training run of a computerized fingerprint matching program in Illinois, Bolton was positively linked to prints found in the abandoned cab, and the outer part of the little girl’s window screen.

Bolton had a prior felony conviction in Illinois, which is why authorities there had his fingerprints. He was arrested for Zosha’s death in 1990. He was already in prison at that time, serving a 15 3/4-year sentence for sexual abuse.

During Bolton’s 1992 trial, prosecutors said Zosha had been stabbed in the lung and left to die.

A medical examiner testified the child might have suffered “excruciating pain’ for 15 to 30 minutes before she died.

Tiny fingerprints on the taxicab window indicated the little girl tapped in an attempt to get out. She was far too small to be able to open the vehicle door herself, Detective Joseph Godoy told the state Board of Executive Clemency this week.

Throughout the trial, Bolton maintained his innocence. He admitted going to the Pickett home that night, along with a man named “Phil,’ to steal money.

The burglary was foiled by a neighbor’s barking dog, he claimed. Bolton told the court in 1992 that Phil had killed Zosha, and that he subsequently killed Phil and buried his body in the desert.

Bolton was convicted of Zosha’s murder in November 1992, and sentenced to die Feb. 22, 1993.

He then became a prime suspect in the October 1982 slaying of Cathy Fritz, and just last year was indicted for her murder.

“Even though the trial never happened, there’s no doubt in our mind (the murderer) was Daren Bolton,’ Cathy’s brother, Jim Fritz, said after Bolton’s execution today.

“Tonight we’re thinking of Cathy and Zosha.’


Zosha Lee Pickett was born July 15, 1983, in Pittsburgh.

Allen and Linda’s only child was named after a character on a television miniseries about Marco Polo. “It means precious and all the joy in the world,’ her father said.

The Picketts divorced shortly after Zosha’s murder. Both have since remarried. Allen lives in Phoenix, where he is a dental technician and a musician. Linda lives in Cedar Crest, N.M.

Zosha’s parents say not a day goes by when they don’t think about their little girl.

There are the holidays, the birthdays and the anniversaries. Eight days from today is the anniversary of the day Zosha disappeared. Her 13th birthday would have been in less than a month.

Daren Lee Bolton was born Sept. 27, 1966, in Champaign, Ill.

His parents, Donald and Diane, divorced when he was about 2 years old, and during his teen-age years he lived with his father.

Court documents say Bolton spent much of his early childhood shuttled among his grandmother, mother and father at residences in both Tucson and Champaign.

A 1981 Pima County Juvenile Court evaluation of Bolton, completed after the 15-year-old allegedly assaulted a counselor in a timeout shelter, says Bolton is “an angry individual with a relatively short fuse.’

“His impulse control and judgment problems further deteriorate when he is under stress,’ the report says. “Unfortunately, Daren seems to be under considerable stress much of the time.’

Bolton, court documents say, told a counselor he spent 11 years living with his grandmother because a court thought his parents were unfit.

At age 15, the juvenile court evaluation found Bolton “many years behind’ in academics and classified him as “severely emotionally handicapped.’

He had a long history of crime, including juvenile referrals in Pima County for allegedly assaulting his sister and attacking a girlfriend.

As an adult, he continued to be arrested in both Tucson and Illinois.

Godoy of the Tucson Police Department said there was some evidence Bolton had been abused by an older female when he was young, which caused him to “act out’ at females in later years.

Bolton told a court-appointed psychologist in 1992 that he had tried but failed to join the Marine Corps, and that as a youngster he often slept in abandoned houses.


At Bolton’s request, none of his family members witnessed his death. He was visited by three family members – reportedly his father, stepmother and a sister – while he dined on his last meal of lasagna, cheesecake and Pepsi.

He turned down an opportunity to speak with Tucson anti-death penalty lawyer Carla Ryan yesterday afternoon, and held true to his word that he would seek no more appeals.

In a May 17 interview with the Tucson Citizen, Bolton said he preferred death to living the rest of his life in prison. But he said he had nothing to say to the Pickett and Fritz families.

“What could I say that would ever change anything that has ever happened that would make them feel better?’ he said. “Nothing.’

Bolton requested that no one but a prison clergyman be present on his behalf at the execution, the first in Arizona this year and the fifth since the state resumed carrying out the death penalty in 1992.

Prison officials said the clergyman chose not to attend.

SIDEBAR: Death penalty foes protest child killer’s execution

By JEN GOMEZ Citizen Staff Writer

It was a small group, but its belief in the cause was strong.

Members of the Coalition of Arizonans to Abolish the Death Penalty gathered at the southwest corner of North Euclid Avenue and East Speedway Boulevard yesterday.

They bore signs that read, “Break the cycle of violence. Stop executions’ and “Fife, Don’t take another life!!’

The protest, on the eve of the execution of convicted child murderer Daren Lee Bolton, prompted a variety of responses from passing motorists. Some honked, some drivers gave thumbs-up, and others waved at the group, gathered in 106-degree weather.

Bolton, 29, who had waived rights to further appeals, died a few minutes after midnight of a lethal injection administered at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Florence.

He had been sentenced to die for the 1986 slaying of 2 1/2-year-old Zosha Lee Pickett.

Mark Homan, 44, said demonstrators against the death penalty usually get more thumbs up than thumbs down.

“That’s kind of encouraging,’ he said.

Members did not arrive at the demonstration, which was scheduled to run from 4:30 to 6 p.m., until after 5. Homan said most members drove to Florence for a vigil.

The goal, he said, is to increase public awareness. He believes that if the group can “help people understand the issues behind the death penalty more fully,’ capital punishment will be one step closer to being abolished.

Homan said members were not protesting just the execution of Bolton, who made no attempt to appeal the death penalty, but also the state’s participation in the killing.

“I’m opposed to the state killing in my name. I profoundly object to that.’

Mike Burkholder, 37, while emphasizing he does not believe killers should be set free, said capital punishment is immoral.

“I view the death penalty as not the way to solve our problems. It reduces us to the same act as the killers,’ he said.

Claire O’Dowd, 55, said Arizona taxpayers are paying for Bolton’s suicide.

“I honestly believe Mr. Bolton is trying to commit suicide,’ she said.

To people who believe Bolton got what he deserved, O’Dowd said, “When is the violence going to end?’

PHOTOS: MARY CHIND/Tucson Citizen/About 10 people turned out at Speedway Boulevard and Euclid Avenue during rush hour last evening to protest the execution of local child killer Daren Lee Bolton.

The Associated Press/STANDING ALONE – The few death penalty protesters who turned out at the Florence prison for a vigil last night gather in a prayer circle. Bolton had declined their help.

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