PHOENIX (AP) — A man pleaded guilty to three counts of murder in the deaths seven years ago of a cigar salesman in Phoenix and a couple from an upscale suburb in two burglaries that ended with the victims being killed and their homes set on fire.
The plea agreement Monday by 38-year-old Michael Lee Crane of Mesa calls for him to serve three consecutive life sentences in the January 2012 killings of Bruce Gaudet and Lawrence and Glenna Shapiro.
As a part of the deal, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty.
The Shapiros were killed four days after Gaudet. Authorities say Crane bound and fatally shot the victims at their homes, stole their jewelry and other valuables, and set their houses on fire.
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A woman connected to Crane was found driving Gaudet’s SUV near Yuma on the same day he was killed.
Maricela Otilia Sanchez, 33, of Phoenix pleaded guilty to kidnapping, first-degree murder and car theft charges. She was sentenced to nearly nine years in prison for the car theft and is awaiting sentencing on the murder and kidnapping convictions.
Prosecutors say a gun used in the killings was found in Crane’s possession when he was arrested in separate crimes that occurred days after the shooting deaths. Crane pleaded guilty to burglary and other charges in those crimes.
Authorities said shoes recovered at an attempted burglary had been stolen days earlier from Gaudet’s home, and that Crane’s DNA was found on the shoes.
Over the course of his murder case, Crane was removed from the courtroom at several hearings for being disruptive and making obscene statements to the judge. He showed hostility toward his attorneys on several occasions.
Much of the proceedings have focused on the psychological fitness of Crane, who claimed at a 2015 mental competency hearing that he was Lucifer. Two months ago, a judge deemed Crane to be mentally fit to move forward with the case.
Two other people have pleaded guilty to hindering the prosecution by suppressing evidence that authorities believed would have led to Crane.
Crane’s sentencing is scheduled for March 22.
Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud.