The eldest daughter of a Tucson man killed in a road rage incident expressed disappointment Thursday in the 11-year sentence her father’s killer received.
Danielle Duarte, 34, and other family members had asked Pima County Superior Court Judge Scott Rash to give Andres Buelna, 25, the maximum sentence of 22 years.
Buelna is just as much a threat to the community as those who committed the mass shootings in Tucson, Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo. and 11-year sentences aren’t likely to deter anyone from committing similar atrocities, Duarte said.
“Anyone who can basically let off a fire-arm in the middle of the day in the middle of the community is a threat,” Duarte said.
A Pima County jury convicted Buelna of second-degree murder in Benny Alvarez Casarez’s death in October. The minimum sentence he faced was 10 years, the maximum sentence 22 and the presumptive, or normal sentence, 16.
Before pronouncing sentence, Rash told the Casarez family that “the value of life is not measured by the sentence imposed.” His voice cracking, he went on to say he considered Buelna’s age, lack of felony criminal history and remorse when imposing the mitigated sentence.
Buelna shot Casarez, 50, on Aug. 1, 2011, in the parking lot of the Jack-in-the-Box restaurant on North Campbell Avenue near Fort Lowell Road.
Attorneys agree both men were driving aggressively in the moments before the shooting, but disagree as to how the men ended up in the parking lot.
Buelna testified he turned into the Jack-in-the-Box to get away from the situation, but Casarez beat him into the parking lot.
He told jurors Casarez jumped out of his car and threatened to assault him and he shot Casarez in self-defense after firing a warning shot.
Prosecutors Victoria Otto and Danielle Constant argued Buelna followed Casarez into the parking lot and intentionally shot the older man. They presented evidence he fled the scene, changed the appearance of his truck, hid the truck and threw away the murder weapon.
On Thursday, Duarte, 34, told Rash her mother, Kathy, has been unable to cope with the loss of her high school sweetheart. She’s lost her job of 25 years, been hospitalized and been left unable to raise the couple’s youngest daughter, Alexis, who is 18.
Alexis now suffers from anxiety attacks and her sister Melissa, 27, has been hospitalized at least six times since the murder, Duarte said.
Her father was the life of the party and the foundation of their family, Duarte said.
Casarez’s sister, Debbie Cometta, told Buelna he is the “epitome of a coward” and if anything happens to her sister-in-law or middle niece it will be on his hands as well.
A tearful Buelna told the family he feels “horrible” about what happened that day.
“I’ve hurt two families so much. I wish I could take it all back,” Buelna said.
In asking for a 10-year sentence, defense attorney Michael Piccarreta told Rash both Buelna and Casarez bear responsibility for Casarez’s death and if either one had made different decisions that day, Casarez wouldn’t be dead.
He objected to Duarte’s characterization of the slaying, calling it “situational” rather than cold-blooded murder.
Piccarreta told Rash a mitigated sentence was called for because of his client’s age and lack of prior felony convictions, but also because he’s well-educated, has a good work history and the support of his family and friends.
Buelna must serve every day of his sentence, although he was given credit for the 526 days he’s already served in jail.
Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On StarNet: Follow the news and events at Pima County's courthouses in Kim Smith's blog, At the Courthouse, at azstarnet.com/courthouse