David Vasquez's family is bracing themselves for yet another year of birthday and holiday celebrations without him.
The 30-year-old was shot twice on Aug. 19, 2020, and left for dead in a motel parking lot, according to Mesa police records. Two teens — who were later accused of committing dozens of other violent crimes around the same time including two other murders — were linked to Vasquez's death.
The teens, Corbin McNeil and James Quintero, took a plea deal in May, in which they agreed to plead guilty to four of the dozens of charges they faced and the promise that they won't be charged in the future for Vasquez's murder. They'll be sentenced in August.
Officials deemed McNeil's involvement in Vasquez's death an act of self-defense. The Maricopa County Medical Examiner ruled Vasquez's manner of death a homicide and his cause of death was listed as "gunshots wounds of the chest and back," according to Mesa police reports.
To this day, no one has been formally charged in connection with Vasquez's murder.
Mesa police last November submitted a first-degree murder charge, among others in connection with Vasquez's death, against a man who was with Vasquez the morning he died. Police believed the two were attempting to commit armed robbery against McNeil, according to reports.
The charge against the man was based on the state's murder felony rule, according to Mesa police spokesperson Sgt. Charles Trapani.
The Maricopa County Attorney's Office on Jan. 21, more than a year after Vasquez's murder, ultimately turned down the charges submitted against the man, Trapani said.
Now, it's possible no one ever will ever face charges for Vasquez's murder.
“My heart is broken for me and my family and our situation, and also for the families of the other victims who are not getting a complete justice,” said Cinnamon Vasquez, David Vasquez's mother.
“I’m disappointed, I’m disgusted," she continued. "I’ve lost my faith in the justice system, and it’s saddening and sickening to know that someday they’re still going to be young enough to get out and start a family."
Teens linked to 4-month crime spree across metro Phoenix
Authorities across the Valley accused McNeil and Quintero of committing dozens of violent crimes, including car thefts at gunpoint and three separate murders, between June and September 2020.
They were 15 and 16 years old at the time, respectively, and both on "intensive" juvenile probation, meaning they were required to be closely watched and on home restriction, according to the Arizona Supreme Court website.
Quintero and McNeil had numerous probation violations dating back to 2017 and 2018, respectively, including for running away from home, not attending school and using drugs, juvenile court records showed. As a result, they'd been ordered to various stints of detention, behavioral health treatment, electronic monitoring and drug testing, records showed.
On July 26, 2020, the teens were suspected of fatally shooting 27-year-old Matthew Meisner as he walked to his apartment near University and McClintock drives in Tempe. They demanded his wallet and phone but he refused to give it to them, Tempe police said.
Meisner loved animals and took in three of his mom's cats after her own death. Those cats helped inspire a bill that was signed into law last year in the wake of Meisner's murder.
Then, Mesa police connected the teens to the Aug. 19 murder of Vasquez.
McNeil was seen on surveillance footage shooting Vasquez twice in the parking lot of a motel near Main Street and Alma School Road, according to Mesa police. They said Vasquez approached the teen with a shotgun and at one point referred to Vasquez's actions as "an apparent attempted robbery," police reports said.
Quintero was also at the hotel during the shooting and at one point approached and looked at Vasquez's body, police reports said. Both McNeil and Quintero fled the scene separately and neither reported the shooting to police, according to police reports.
Vasquez had two children and five siblings.
A month later, they were suspected of shooting and killing 34-year-old Amber Patton after sneaking into her Chandler home near Riggs Road and Val Vista Drive, according to Chandler police.
Patton served close to four years in the U.S. Army, which included a tour to Iraq, her mom, Marilyn Suchla previously told The Arizona Republic.
"Our family has gone through a large range of emotions since James and Corbin took the life of our Matthew Meisner," his family wrote in a statement provided to The Republic but his cousin Meagen Epstein. "Then, two months later to learn what they did to Amber Patton ... unthinkable, inhumane and senseless. Amber's family will never be the same."
"Their ages indicated they were mere boys, but their actions indicated they were wanting to play the gang-banger fantasy games," it continued. "It's sad to think of what they had to go through to end up as evil as they did in their short lives, but they snatched two lives out of this world who in no way deserved what these two dealt out."
Numerous charges dropped under plea deal
Records showed McNeil and Quintero appeared in juvenile court several times before and during the summer of 2020, when authorities claim they committed dozens of violent crimes across the Valley. Most of the court appearances were scheduled after a probation violation was discovered, for which temporary custody warrants were also issued to allow police to take them into custody.
One such warrant was issued for McNeil three days after Meisner was killed, according to records. McNeil appeared in court for that warrant 20 days later, which was also the day before Vasquez was killed, records showed.
Separate temporary custody warrants were also issued for each of the teens in the days leading up to Patton's murder.
McNeil and Quintero were even identified by Mesa police, taken into custody and questioned about Vasquez's murder the same day it occurred. McNeil was charged with several weapons and drug-related offenses in connection with the incident; however, both teens were ultimately released and it's unclear when exactly or why.
McNeil was released "against Mesa PD's wishes" by a juvenile attorney with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, Trapani said. He referred The Republic to the County Attorney's Office for further information about McNeil's release.
A spokesperson for the County Attorney's Office said they had to review the large case before responding to The Republic's emailed questions on Wednesday.
"I fully blame the system for letting these people come out and put more harm to other families and, unfortunately, my brother's loss couldn't stop it from continuing," said Vasquez's sister, Alyssa Santoyo.
"Hopefully the judge can see the evil in the eyes at that point and maybe make the best decision on their sentencing ... because there's a lot of families out there hurting, you know, David is missing so much right," she continued.
It wasn't until around Patton's murder that police were able to connect the series of violent crimes to McNeil and Quintero, according to police.
They were arrested separately on Sept. 22 and indicted the following month on a combined 39 felony charges, including for each a charge of first-degree murder in connection with Patton and second-degree murder in connection with Meisner. Court records indicated at least nine people were victimized by the teens, excluding Vasquez.
The teens were being charged as adults, though. Quintero turned 18 last month while McNeil turns 18 in October.
Both McNeil and Quintero maintained their innocence until May 12 when they each accepted a guilty plea that dismissed all but four charges against them, including a previous first-degree murder charge downgraded under the plea agreement to a second-degree murder charge.
In total, they have each entered into guilty pleas to one count of armed robbery, one count of kidnapping and two counts of second-degree murder in connection with Patton and Meisner's murders.
"In our opinion, James and Corbin deserve what they gave Matt and Amber — death. But we understand the law does not allow for that, because of their ages," Meisner's family wrote in a statement to The Republic.
They added they were pleased the teens pleaded guilty and anxiously awaited their sentencing.
"We sincerely pray for James, Corbin, and their families. Our hope is these two young men can turn their lives around while in prison and make a real positive difference in the lives of those they come in contact with," the statement continued. "A positive change like that is the best we can hope for in this incredibly tragic and sad situation."
The agreement also barred the Mesa Police Department and Maricopa County Attorney's Office from charging either McNeil or Quintero with Vasquez's murder. It goes on to state that the homicide case "was not filed due to justification defense."
Mesa police was not part of the crafting of the plea agreement offered to McNeil and Quintero, according to Trapani.
Furthermore, under the plea agreement, both teens could be sentenced to between 30 and 44 years in prison. They are scheduled to be sentenced at 9 a.m. on Aug. 12.
Ulises Ferragut Jr., McNeil's attorney, and Robert Shipman, Quintero's attorney, declined to comment.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona teens accused of 4-month violent crime spree accept plea deal