YAKIMA, WA - More than two years after the brutal murders of Yakima Moneytree employees Karina Morales-Rodriguez and Marta Martinez, convicted murderer Manuel Verduzco was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in prison without the possibility of parole on Friday morning.
Exactly three weeks after a jury found Verduzco guilty of two counts of aggravated first degree murder, Verduzco appeared in court for his sentencing. Before Superior Court Judge Michael McCarthy handed down Verduzco's automatic life sentence, Verduzco had to sit and listen to impact statements from the victim's family.
"I miss Marta so much," said Michelle Martinez, Marta's sister. "Every day I think about her. I find myself longing to hear her laugh. I miss cracking jokes with her. I just miss being around her."
Martinez choked back tears while reading her statement. She described that her heart was broken that some of her children will never have the chance to meet Marta and know her love.
"I lost a sister," Martinez said. "I lost a best friend. I live each day missing her and wishing she was here."
Karina's husband told Judge McCarthy that he thought about writing down what he wanted to say but in the end chose not to, but Judge McCarthy still felt the genuine emotions he has towards the man who took his wife's life in 2016.
"This individual has shown no remorse for what he's done," said Gabriel Pinon, Marta's husband. "I have accepted the fact that me and him are going to be arch-enemies for the rest of our lives and then some."
Pinon admitted during his statement that he wished he could do something to Verduzco physically as he sat in the courtroom, but has kept his composure throughout the entire process because he has five children at home, including a nearly 3-year-old boy who was just 9 months old when Karina was killed.
"He will not stop tormenting," Pinon said. "He will continue to torment us. He will continue to appeal everything and anything we throw at him and he will still try to convince individuals that he's the victim of something."
The last victim impact statement came from the manager of the Moneytree lending store, who was also manager back in 2016 and was friends with both victims. She explained that even more than two years after the deadly shootings, she and other employees and former employees who knew both victims struggle with guilt.
"Why wasn't it me instead of Marta or Karina?" asked Dena Bird, the manager. "How do we look their families in the face? Knowing that we're still here but they are not."
Lead defense attorney Pete Mazzone tried during the double murder trial to convince the jury that Verduzco has schizophrenia and was psychotic when he shot and killed both women. After victim impact statements were over, he remained defiant that a better place for Verduzco would've been in a mental hospital instead of prison.
"And although it may appear that he's showing no remorse, remorse is something that's unique to the individual," Mazzone claimed. "And I can assure all of you, he's remorseful."
But after Mazzone was finished addressing the court and family and friends in the gallery, Verduzco had the chance to actually show regret for what he had done.
"Alright, Mr. Verduzco, is there anything you want to say to me about this matter before I impose sentence?" Judge McCarthy asked him.
Verduzco gave a loud, one-word answer: "No."
Before sentencing, Judge McCarthy called the murders horrific and somewhat inexplicable given Verduzco's lack of criminal history.
"But a deliberate and cold-blooded murder of two people who did nothing more than go to work that morning," said Judge McCarthy.
Judge McCarthy then announced Verduzco's sentence; two consecutive life sentences in prison without the possibility of parole. Verduzco's defense is appealing the conviction.
YAKIMA, WA - After just eight hours of deliberations, a Yakima jury reached a verdict in the three week long double murder trial of Manuel Verduzco.
"We, the jury, find the defendant Manuel Enrique Verduzco guilty of the crime of murder in the 1st degree as charged," read Judge Michael McCarthy.
The courtroom was packed with friends, family, and former co-workers of Karina Morales-Rodriguez and Marta Martinez, the two women Verduzco shot and killed while they were about to open the Moneytree lending store on 1st Street and Walnut back in 2016.
Jurors found Verduzco guilty of two counts of aggravated first degree murder and one count of first degree burglary. They rejected his defense team's theory and their four expert witnesses that he was schizophrenic and psychotic when he pulled the trigger. His lawyers had asked at the end of their closing arguments on Thursday to find him not guilty by reason of insanity.
Lead defense attorney Pete Mazzone gave a very brief comment to the media after the verdict was read that despite the jury's decision, he says his client does have mental issues.
"I think a mental hospital would have been a better place for him," Mazzone said.
Yakima County Deputy Prosecutors Brian Aaron and Michael Ellis had a big challenge in this case because of the defense claims that Verduzco was insane.
"You have to get into the mind of the defendant when he was committing these horrific acts," said Joe Brusic, Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney. "And being able to show that he had the mental state, and we have to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt."
Judge McCarthy also polled each juror at the request of Mazzone. The jury also agreed unanimously to all the aggravating factors in this case, including concealment during the commission of the crime, and that the murders were part of a common scheme or plan.
Verduzco will be sentenced on . At that time, family members of Morales-Rodriguez and Martinez will have the opportunity to speak directly to Verduzco before he spends the rest of his life in prison.
"Hopefully this brings a sense of justice to the families," Brusic said. "It's very important that they understand that we did the very best we could and the result was good."
YAKIMA, WA - A Yakima County jury began deliberations on Thursday afternoon after the prosecution and defense completed closing arguments in the double murder trial of Manuel Verduzco.
During any trial the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt lies with the prosecution, but this trial of the 2016 deaths of Marta Martinez and Karina Morales-Rodriguez is different. Verduzco's defense is that a psychotic episode, specifically voices, told him to kill both women. But proving that he should be found not guilty by reason of insanity is up to his attorneys to prove.
After the state completed their closing arguments, Verduzco's lead attorney Pete Mazzone reiterated to the jury during his arguments that the four defense expert witnesses that took the stand during their case showed that genetically and biologically schizophrenia does run in Verduzco's family. Mazzone also said that despite any and all inconsistencies Verduzco may have told multiple doctors since the shooting, the defense team more than proved that he was insane by proponderance of the evidence.
"All of the data that was collected and analyzed independently at every step of the way by everyone that we have asked to take a look at it, came to the same basic conclusion," Mazzone said.
Proving a case by proponderance of the evidence is much different than the prosecution having to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt. Verduzco's defense just had to convince the jury that it is more likely true than not true that Verduzco was insane when he pulled the trigger.
But the Yakima County prosecutors had one last shot to leave the jury with no doubt that Verduzco should be found guilty of two counts of first degree murder and one count of burglary in the first degree.
The state told the jury that the defense case unravels with one small piece of testimony that was given by the cousin he was living with in Selah at the time of the killings.
Before handing the case over to the jury, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Brian Aaron said that according to Verduzco's own statements to doctors, the voices he was hearing to hurt someone at Moneytree became too much to bear, and Verduzco claimed that the only relief was when he could drink himself to sleep.
"Why did the defendant set his alarm for 5:30 in the morning, Saturday?" Aaron asked the jury. "You have to go back there and look each other in the eye and say 'why did the voices tell him to do that?' There's no evidence of that. Think about that."
The jury will continue their deliberations Friday morning at Yakima Superior Court. If they can't unanimously decide that Verduzco is guilty of first degree murder, Judge McCarthy told them during jury instructions they are able to consider a lesser charge of second degree murder. Verduzco could also be found not guilty by reason of insanity.
YAKIMA, WA - Was Manuel Verduzco psychotic when he shot and killed two Moneytree employees in Yakima in 2016? That's what jurors will have to decide as the double murder trial nears its end in Yakima Superior Court.
Wednesday was the last day of testimony as two doctors from Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake were given court orders to independently find out if Verduzco was schizophrenic when he shot and killed Karina Morales-Rodriguez and Marta Martinez.
"Our conclusion was that he does not have schizophrenia," said Dr. Robert Henry. "He was malingering symptoms of schizophrenia. He has anti-social personality traits and alcohol use disorder."
Doctors for Verduzco's defense have testified during the trial that he was insane when he killed both women. But for Dr. Trevor Travers, a forensic psychologist at Eastern State Hospital and Dr. Henry say Verduzco had intent to kill them and is lying when he's told his defense team's doctors that voices were commanding him to hurt people at Moneytree.
"Inconsistency between saying I heard voices in March (2016) for the first time and voices in junior high for the first time, I don't think can be explained by differences in the way questions were asked," said Dr. Travers. "That's a pretty big inconsistency. It's pretty easily measured."
But during cross examination, the defense asked: what about Verduzco's odd behavior leading up to the deadly shootings? Like injecting his cousin with insulin because he thought it was helping.
"Is that delusional?" asked Peter Connick, Verduzco's co-defense attorney.
"Again, it's hard to say it's delusional when you have the presence of a substance involved," replied Dr. Henry.
"It sounds like what you're saying is, yeah it could be delusional but it could be the result of drinking?" said Connick.
"That's right," replied Dr. Henry.
"But it could also be the result of psychotic behavior, right?" countered Connick.
"But it's known that he was drinking so you can't say that's psychotic," Dr. Henry said.
On Thursday morning, closing arguments for the prosecution and defense are expected to begin in the two week trial. After that, Verduzco's fate will be in the hands of the jury.
YAKIMA, WA - The Moneytree double murder trial began a second full week in a Yakima Superior Courtroom with Manuel Verduzco's defense team resting their case.
During their case, Verduzco's lawyers have been trying to create reasonable doubt in the jury. They've called several expert witnesses to the stand that have testified that Verduzco is schizophrenic and that voices made him kill Karina Morales-Rodriguez and Marta Martinez back in 2016.
On Tuesday morning, the final three defense witnesses included a forensic investigator and a neurogeneticist who tested members of Verduzco's family.
Dr. Randell Libby testified that through those genetic tests, he found clear markers on the paternal side of Verduzco's family demonstrating a potential inheritance of schizophrenia.
One of those relatives on his father's side also took the stand. Christian Verduzco is one of his cousins who lives in Nogales, Arizona, and he testified that when he was just 10 years old he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
"I would hear voices that would tell me to kill my mother. To hurt her," Christian said. "And that's a very painful time in my life."
During cross-examination, Christian said that the voices stopped after taking medication just one time, but Verduzco claims that the voices went away because he obeyed them by killing both women at Moneytree.
On Tuesday afternoon, the prosecution began putting their own doctors on the stand in what's known as rebuttal witnesses. They are expected to continue their testimony Wednesday morning.
YAKIMA, WA - Yakima County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Michael Ellis spent much of Thursday morning trying to discredit a defense expert witness testifying that Manuel Verduzco was insane the moment he shot and killed Karina Morales-Rodriguez and Marta Martinez as they arrived for work at a Yakima Moneytree lending store in March 2016.
Dr. Mark McClung was back on the stand after testifying Wednesday that Verduzco was insane when he pulled out a gun and shot and killed both women with close gunshot wounds to their faces.
Dr. McClung told the jury that the persistence of the voices along with external stresses caused Verduzco to lose his ability to "appreciate the wrongfulness" of his actions.
But during cross examination Thursday morning by Yakima County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Michael Ellis, McClung agreed that there were increasing inconsistencies between what Verduzco was telling him versus several other doctors that were investigating his claims that he was schizophrenic.
Dr. McClung met with Verduzco three times in 2016. During those meetings, Verduzco told him that the voices commanding him to hurt someone at Moneytree became impossible to resist. After killing both women, the prosecution says Verduzco said the voices told him to do something else.
"So the voices said he had to kill Moneytree employees Marta and Karina, and to quote 'just kill himself after I had done it?'" asked Ellis.
"Yes," Dr. McClung replied.
"So in other words, the defendant could resist the voices, right? Because he's sitting right here?" Ellis asked.
"He was able to resist the voices on that issue, yes," Dr. McClung answered.
"Okay, so you're telling us that he was able to resist the voices that were telling him to kill himself and yet he had to obey the voices that told him to kill Marta and Karina?" said Ellis.
"That's the information that I had from him," said Dr. McClung.
Dr. McClung says Verduzco knew before and after the deadly shootings that what he was doing was wrong, but during the actual crime could only focus on his hallucinations making him insane at the time of the killings.
During his evaluation of Verduzco, Dr. McClung administered a personality analysis, known as a PAI (Personality Assessment Inventory). The findings showed that Verduzco wasn't in the clinical range for schizophrenia but was in the profile range for someone who could have the mental disorder.
Verduzco reported other inconsistencies to multiple doctors, including when he first heard the voices, and that they didn't/did bother him during his sleep.
During a jail questionnaire just hours after he was arrested in 2016 he said he didn’t drink alcohol, answered no to a question asking if a family member committed suicide and answered no to previous attempts at suicide. But throughout the trial there has been witness testimony from doctors, family, and former co-workers that leading up to the deadly shootings Verduzco was drinking heavily, had attempted to commit suicide when he totaled a truck a cousin signed a loan for, and that his symptoms became worse after 2011 when his mother had suffered a debilitating stroke and his cousin committed suicide.
Verduzco's defense team is expected to wrap up their case sometime next week and will ask the jury to find him not guilty by reason of insanity.
YAKIMA, WA - The state rests in the double murder trial of Manuel Verduzco in the 2016 deaths of two Moneytree employees in Yakima.
Verduzco's defense team now faces an uphill battle to prove to the jury that what he did was a psychotic episode and not a robbery gone wrong.
Throughout the trial, Yakima County prosecutors have said Verduzco shot and killed Karina Morales-Rodriguez and Marta Martinez because he needed money and the fact that he was a former employee, knew exactly how to get it.
On Monday morning, the state put four witnesses on the stand, including former co-workers to show that he was even borrowing money from one woman just weeks before the shooting.
"So the defendant told you his bank account was frozen," said Brian Aaron, lead prosecutor.
The former co-worker had nodded. "And he had no access to his funds so I gave him about $200," said Megan Kelsch.
"Of MoneyTree money?" asked Aaron.
"My own money," said Kelsch.
"Oh, you actually loaned your own money to the defendant?" confirmed Aaron.
Prosecutors also showed the jury that Verduzco was relying financially on his family.
"So you payed $55,000 for a truck to give to the defendant?" asked Aaron.
"Yes," replied Alma Gonzalez, Verduzco's cousin.
"Your name was on that truck?" asked Aaron.
"Yes," Gonzalez replied.
Gonzalez would later tell the jury that the truck was repossessed less than six months later.
Bianca Verduzco, also Verduzco's cousin and his roommate in Selah in 2016, said that on the morning of the deadly shootings she was woken up by a loud alarm at 5:30 a.m.
"I remember as I was walking up the stairs I saw that the light to Manny's was on," Bianca recalled. "I saw from the stairs that he was sitting on his bed, I think he was putting on his shoes."
Her testimony directly contradicts what Verduzco told police after his arrest hours after both women were killed on March 26, 2016. He told detectives that he had slept into the afternoon but was woken up after the shootings by someone checking on him to make sure he was okay following the shooting.
"I asked him, 'Hey, what are you doing up so early?' He said, 'I have a job interview at 6:30' or something like that," recalled Bianca. "I said, 'How are you going to get there?' He didn't have a car at the time since he had totaled it that January of that year. He said he was going to call a cab and I said, 'Don't call a cab, cabs are expensive; you can borrow my car' and he said okay."
Verduzco's defense team has admitted he killed both women but should be found not guilty because he's schizophrenic.
On Wednesday, the defense is expected to call their first of several expert witnesses to the stand to testify that Verduzco does in fact suffer from that mental illness.
YAKIMA, WA - Seven witnesses for the prosecution took the stand on Monday at Yakima Superior Court in the double murder trial of Manuel Verduzco Jr.
It's been exactly two years since Karina Morales-Rodriguez and Marta Martinez were shot to death while heading into work at the Moneytree lending store on 1st Street and Walnut.
Last week during opening statements, Verduzco's defense team admitted that he was the one who shot and killed both women, but at the end of their case, will ask that the jury find him not guilty by reason of insanity because they say he is schizophrenic.
Yesterday morning, Yakima Police Detective Drew Shaw took the stand. During his testimony, he played for the jury a nine-minute montage of surveillance video from multiple locations. The video included footage from the Moneytree, a small business down the street, and from two Yakima Police officers' dash cams.
On March 26, 2016 two YPD officers were on their way to work and captured video from outside the Moneytree shortly before the shootings. During the montage, the jury saw both victims arriving for work the moment Verduzco confronted one of the women at the front door. It then showed him leave briefly, at which time one of the victims locked the door. When Verduzco came back, he shot out the glass door and then chased the victim into the parking lot before shooting her.
Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, a forensic pathologist, took the stand yesterday and testified that both women died from close-range gunshot wounds to the head.
Verduzco was arrested the same day as the shooting, and during his interrogation told detectives his alibi was that he had been sleeping until the afternoon. During questioning, Detective Shaw turned the conversation to firearms.
"I asked him if he owned a firearm," Detective Shaw said. "He said that he used to own a firearm but did not own a firearm at that time."
Despite this, Yakima Police ended up finding a receipt showing that he had in fact bought a .23 Glock handgun a little over a month before both women were killed.
The gun matching the receipt was later found in his Selah apartment.
Several of Verduzco's former co-workers also testified on Monday afternoon. Anna Vidrio was a teller and told the jury that the day before the murders she was getting ready to open the store when a man walked out from behind a pillar near the door.
"I noticed that he was approaching the vehicle," Vidrio said. "I told Pedro to lock the doors until I saw that the person approaching was Manny (the defendant)."
Vidrio later revealed that she was actually supposed to work the Saturday morning Karina and Marta were killed, but she switched shifts with Karina because Karina had asked her to so she could be able to go to Easter mass with her son.
The trial will resume today and is expected to last three weeks.
YAKIMA, WA - In memory of lives taken too soon, a picnic table is dedicated to the two women who were killed outside a Moneytree storefront earlier this year.
A little bit of rain didn't stop people from welcoming a new addition to Sarg Hubbard Park.
A new picnic table dedicated to Karina Morales Rodriguez and Marta Martinez.
"That's something that they enjoy as well, it's not something you just look at and is just a bad, a bad memory all the time," said Dena Bird, Moneytree Branch Manager.
On one side of the table is Karina's name overlooking the playground.
"I know Karina would spend a lot of time here with my children, so having something set out here is just beautiful, it's just wonderful," said Gabriel Piñon, Karina's husband.
On the other side of the table is Marta's, facing the pond.
"In February, Perla, myself and Marta decided we wanted to do the polar plunge for special Olympics, and this was actually where we did the plunge," said Bird.
The families want this table to serve as more than just a memorial, but a positive place where people can spend time together and enjoy each other's company.
"Being able to reflect on the importance of family," said Piñon, "and Karina had a big emphasis when it came to that."
With a white balloon in hand a countdown of 3, 2, 1, three balloons were released into the air, symbolizing peace, healing, and love.
YAKIMA, WA - Today the Yakima Superior Court decided that the man charged with the murders of two Moneytree employees will not face the death penalty.
The courtroom was filled with people anxiously waiting to hear what penalty Manuel Verduzco could face.
"We have done an exhaustive search and handed to the court the document that indicates that it is our intent not to seek the death penalty," said Joe Brusic, Prosecuting Attorney.
Brusic explains the reason behind the decision.
"We looked at all of his social history, his educational background, his employment history and who he his," said Brusic. "The duty that I have is to consider everything about whether there is any mitigation in regards to jury finding any sufficient leniency."
Verduzco, an ex-employee of the Moneytree in downtown Yakima, is charged with shooting and killing Karina Morales-Rodriguez and Marta Martinez in March.
Even though he will not be facing the death penalty, he will be facing another.
"The charges remain aggravated first degree murder," said Brusic. "The only possible penalty if convicted is life without parole, and that is currently what he is facing with the charges as they stand right now," said Brusic.
Verduzco's time in court is just getting started as he will be facing the judge again for trial.
Verduzco is scheduled to have his next court appearance in December, but the trial for this case isn't expected to start until next year.
YAKIMA, WA - The decision on whether or not Manuel Verduzco - the man charged with the murder of two Moneytree employees - could face the death penalty was postponed again.
The defense asked for more time and the judge granted it.
Joe Brusic, the Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney who is on the case, agrees with the extension.
"The defense asked for more time to be able to provide materials from the investigation that they have undertaken," Brusic shared with reporter Gilbert Magallon. "And I agreed to a short brief continuance in order to provide them that additional time for them to give me something."
Once again, the judge asked the media to not tape Verduzco's face, therefore, the video provided here is from Verduzco's first court appearance.
Verduzco, a former Moneytree employee, is charged with the murders of Karina Morales-Rodriguez and Marta Martinez.
The two women were opening the Moneytree in the downtown area back in the month of March, when they were both shot and killed.
Although there have been delays in the case, Gabriel Piñon, Karina's husband, says he wants the prosecutor to make the right decision even if it takes more time.
"I think it is better to take the time that is necessary to make sure that everything is going to have a result that is going to positively affect the community and the families," said Piñon.
Even though it will take more time before a decision is made on the possible sentence, Piñon says he only wants one outcome for himself and his family.
"In my case I would like closure, I think I am ready for closure, our whole family is ready for closure," admitted Piñon. "We are just tired and we are ready to get some closure out of all of this."
YAKIMA, WA - The man charged with the murders of two Moneytree employees pleaded not guilty in court today. Manuel Enrique Verduzco, a former Moneytree employee, was charged last month with two counts of first-degree murder and first-degree robbery in the shooting deaths of Marta Martinez and Karina Morales-Rodriguez.
Today Verduzco pleaded not guilty to all three charges. The judge asked all media not to show the defendants face, but didn't explain why. A separate hearing to discuss a possible death sentence is scheduled for May 6th. Verduzco's trial is tentatively set for early June.
YAKIMA, WA (AP) - A Yakima County man has been charged with aggravated murder and burglary in connection with the fatal shootings of two women as they were opening a payday lending business.
Prosecutors filed the charges Wednesday against 26-year-old Manuel Enrique Verduzco, of Selah.
They say he shot 27-year-old Karina Morales-Rodrigues and 30-year-old Martha Martinez outside the Moneytree store on Saturday.
Police say employees identified Verduzco from store surveillance footage of the attack. The suspect is a former employee of the business.
Authorities are still investigating the incident and have not yet determined a motive for the killing.
Verduzco was arrested at his parents' Yakima home without incident on Saturday. He's being held on $1 million bail.
UPDATE MONDAY 11:00 AM:
YAKIMA, WA - Yakima Police say the Moneytree double homicide suspect, Manuel Verduzco, 26, is also a former employee of Moneytree.
Verduzco is suspected of killing two Moneytree employees, Karina Morales-Rodrigues and Marta Martinez, Saturday morning outside store.
UPDATE SATURDAY 8:19 PM:
YAKIMA, WA - Yakima Police say they have arrested 26-year-old Manuel Verduzco in connection to the deaths of 27-year-old Karina Morales-Rodrigues and 30-year-old Marta Martinez. Both women were Moneytree employees at the location near Walnut and First Street where the shooting occurred this morning.
Yakima police say the two women were confronted by a suspect while they were opening the business Saturday morning. Verduzco was identified as a possible suspect through an investigation. More information came to light later in the day that led to Verduzco's arrest Saturday afternoon. He is booked into the Yakima County Jail on two counts of first degree murder. Police do not believe anyone else is involved in the shooting at this point.
"This is an active and ongoing investigation. Detectives are still in the process of obtaining search warrants, processing evidence, and speaking to persons who may have information on this case," Captain Jeff Schneider told NBC Right Now in a press release.
YAKIMA, WA - After an early morning shooting claimed the lives of two women in front of the Moneytree near South First Street, the company's President, Aggie Clark sent a statement to the public:
"We are extremely shocked and saddened by the grave incident that took place at our Yakima branch early Saturday morning. All of Moneytree joins together to mourn the loss of our two Team Members who were brutally shot and killed. We appreciate the quick response from the Yakima police department and their diligent and ongoing efforts to apprehend those responsible. Our thoughts and prayers go out to our Team Members and their families during this horrible tragedy." -Aggie Clark, Moneytree President"
The company confirms to NBC Right Now the two female victims were employees at the business. Right now, detectives with Yakima Police are actively investigating the shooting and have not publicly identified any suspect or suspects. Both women died due to injuries from gunshot wounds. One of the women was found in front of the business door, the other in the street.
This is a developing story and will be updated as information becomes available.
3-26-16 ORIGINAL STORY:
YAKIMA, WA- The Yakima Police Department is investigating a shooting around 6 a.m. where two women were found dead outside Moneytree near 1st Street and Walnut Street in Yakima.
Right now, 2nd Street to 2nd Avenue is closed off due to the investigation. YPD asks that people avoid the area. This story will be updated as more information becomes available.