Yakima County prosecutor on considering death penalty for MoneyTree killings

The Yakima County Prosecutor is currently trying to decide whether to pursue the death penalty in the Moneytree double homicide case.

Manuel Verduzco is charged with first-degree aggravated murder after being accused of shooting two women to death. This is only the fourth time in nearly 30 years where the death penalty has been considered in Yakima County.

Marta Martinez and Karina Morales-Rodriguez were ready to start their work day at Moneytree one March morning when court records say a former employee, 26-year-old Verduzco, shot and killed them.

He was arrested hours later and could now face the harshest penalty under state law.

"This is one of the greatest decisions that I'll ever make," said Yakima County Prosecutor Joe Brusic.

Prosecutor Brusic is deciding whether this crime calls for the death penalty. Verduzco has been charged with two counts of first-degree aggravated murder. Defendants need to have at least one aggravator to be considered for the death penalty. Verduzco faces three. They further a crime by making it more violent or intensified. For instance, Verduzco is accused of murdering multiple people and accused of doing it while in the act of a burglary.

"Things change dramatically if any prosecutor files a notice seeking the death penalty," said Brusic.

In the past thirty years, the death penalty's been considered three times in Yakima County.

The closest the county's ever been to the death penalty was after a couple was brutally stabbed and murdered in 1988 while eating dinner at their home in Parker. The Nickoloffs were killed by two 17-year-old's, who took off with two televisions.

Both defendants, Herbert Rice Junior and Russell McNeil, got life in prison without parole.

"Herbert Rice Junior being alive is an insult to our parents and this community and to the state," said a victim's family member at Rice Junior's sentencing hearing.

Rice Junior was the closest our county's ever gotten to putting someone on death row, with an 11 to 1 vote by jurors.

"The homicides were exceptionally serious and rocked Yakima County and still does," said Brusic.

The death penalty was then considered again after the execution-style killings of 21-year-old Ricardo Causor and his 3-year-old daughter Mya in 2005 in Yakima. Commissioners said at the time going for the death penalty could cost more than $2 million.

The prosecutor, Ron Zirkle, ultimately decided against it. One defendant, Jose Sanchez, was later sentenced to life in prison and the other, Mario Mendez, was sentenced to 30 years.

The most recent time the death penalty was considered in Yakima County was in 2011 against Kevin Harper.

"It almost needs to be air tight without any doubt," said former prosecutor Jim Hagarty.

This was the triple homicide case in West Valley in 2011 where three members of the Goggins family were attacked, killed and robbed. Prosecutor Hagarty decided not to pursue the death penalty after consideration and no one took blame for the murders.

"The system as a whole is impacted," said Brusic. "It's an exceptionally serious decision."

A decision Prosecutor Brusic has requested more time to make. He says death penalty cases involve a closer look at evidence and the responsibility of trying to understand the suspect.

"My job is to make sure I know everything I can within reason about who [Verduzco] is," said Brusic.

Brusic wouldn't speculate on what it could cost. He did note it's more expensive with the need for a much larger jury pool, an extra public defender from Seattle and more time on all ends.

Aggravated murder suspects undergo one regular jury trial but then have a penalty phase if found guilty -- that's where jurors decide if they get death or life without parole.

Unlike some other states, the county foots the majority of the bill with the possibility of some reimbursements.

"Right now, money is not a factor in any decision I would make," said Brusic.

Brusic now has until July 15th to make the decision on whether he wants to pursue the death penalty.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off