Phoenix — The Arizona Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a death row inmate’s convictions and sentences for a killing that prosecutors said was motivated by a desire to become a member of the Aryan Brotherhood criminal gang.
Vincent Joseph Guarino, now 29, was convicted of first-degree murder and other crimes in the March 2010 killing of Chad Rowe, who was kidnapped from his home then shot three times, stabbed in the hand and foot and left on a street.
Maricopa County Superior Court jurors sentenced Guarino to death for his murder conviction after finding four circumstances that permitted the sentence.
Those circumstances included that the killing was intended to promote, further or assist the objectives of a criminal street gang or to join one.
The county attorney’s office has said killing Rowe was “the price Guarino was required to pay in order to join the gang” and that his case apparently was the first in Arizona in which jurors found the gang sentencing circumstance since the Legislature added it to the death-penalty sentencing law in 2005.
State Supreme Court spokeswoman Heather Murphy said Thursday that Guarino’s case also may have been the first time the state high court considered a death-penalty case in which jurors found that particular sentencing circumstance.
Guarino’s appeal did not challenge the jurors’ finding of that sentencing factor and it was not addressed in the court’s ruling, Justice Rebecca White Berch said.
Guarino’s appeal did include a challenge to a widely used Arizona sentencing circumstance — that the finding that the killing was “especially cruel” was unconstitutionally vague.
However, the Arizona justices have previously upheld that sentencing circumstance and they did so again in Guarino’s case, saying the circumstance is vague on its face but instructions given to jurors narrowed it sufficiently.
The court also rejected Guarino’s argument that the trial judge improperly allowed jurors to consider sentencing evidence that unfairly made Guarino look bad. That evidence included a police detective’s testimony that Guarino’s brother confessed to participating in the killing and implicated Guarino.
The justices said that allowing that testimony was appropriate in the penalty phase of the trial because it helped jurors decide whether Guarino deserved leniency.
Guarino’s brother, Frank, is serving a 22-year prison sentence for second-degree murder and shorter prison terms for multiple other crimes related to the killing.
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