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Guilty plea in slaying of store clerk

Citizen Staff Writer



A Tucson man accused of killing a convenience store clerk has agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder.

Daniel Jesus Chavez, 23, had been charged with first-degree murder in the July 14, 2006, death of Christopher Curtiss Cottle, 50, at an East Side Quik Mart.

Pima County Superior Court Judge Deborah Bernini will sentence Chavez on May 1. The maximum sentence for second-degree murder is 22 years.

On Wednesday, Chavez was unsure whether to take the plea.

Defense attorney David Alan Darby told Bernini he urged Chavez to take the plea.

“This is not a whodunit,” Darby said. “This is a natural disaster waiting to happen.”

Darby said he told Chavez if he went to trial, two witnesses were prepared to identify him as the person who shot Cottle, which likely would result in a first-degree murder conviction.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Bernini would have sentenced Chavez to life in prison either without parole or with the possibility of parole after 25 years.

Darby said he advised Chavez that, given mitigating factors including a dysfunctional childhood, he could get less than the maximum 22-year sentence, likely 16 years, if he pleaded to second-degree murder.

“Do you want to spend the rest of your life in prison?” Bernini asked Chavez Wednesday.

“The only way to avoid any certainty” of a life sentence is to take the plea, Bernini said.

Chavez, who is illiterate, said parts of the plea confused him.

Darby asked for a day to go over the plea with him.

Members of Cottle’s family who attended Wednesday’s hearing, approved of the plea offer.

Deputy County Attorney Kellie Johnson, after consulting with Cottle’s family, agreed to a two-day delay.

Chavez was arrested along with his half brother, Hector Taner Karaca, then 17, and another set of half brothers: Manuel Calletano Montaño, then 27, and Armando Ramirez, then 31.

Police say Karaca, Montaño and Ramirez stole beer from the Quik Mart and Cottle followed them outside. Chavez is said to have been waiting outside either in or by a car.

Cottle’s body was found about 12:30 a.m. outside the store. Charges against Karaca, Montaño and Ramirez were dropped in Cottle’s killing.

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