Phoenix serial killings suspect: ‘I’m innocent’

This photo and sketch combo shows an undated photo provided by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office of Aaron Saucedo, left, and a July 2016 composite sketch provided by the Phoenix Police Department showing a suspect in a series of fatal shootings in Phoenix. Saucedo, a 23-year-old Phoenix man arrested in a string of 2016 serial killings that terrorized several Phoenix neighborhoods, is proclaiming his innocence. The former city bus driver declared "I'm innocent" during a brief court hearing Monday, May 8, 2017. (Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and Phoenix Police Department via AP)

PHOENIX (AP) — A former city bus driver suspected in a string of nine deadly shootings that spread fear in Phoenix declared “I’m innocent” as residents of the terrorized neighborhoods Tuesday expressed both relief over the arrest and frustration that it took so long.

Aaron Saucedo, 23, spoke up during a brief court appearance late Monday night after his arrest on suspicion of being the killer dubbed the Serial Street Shooter. A judge ordered him held without bail.

Police say Saucedo killed nine people and carried out 12 shootings from August 2015 to July 2016, gunning down victims after dark as they stood outside their homes or sat in their cars. Most of the killings were in a Latino neighborhood.

Police gave no details on a motive. Saucedo knew only the first victim, and the other killings were random, authorities said.

Because of the shootings last summer, some residents stayed inside after dark. Others were afraid to come forward because many are immigrants in the U.S. illegally or don’t have their paperwork in order.

Residents said they were happy that police made an arrest but questioned whether it would have happened sooner had the killings occurred in a different neighborhood.

“They didn’t look for him at all. They didn’t care. You know why? Because there were no white people dying,” resident Sirwendell Flowers said. “Look at the faces on the news. The police didn’t care.”

Marina Smith was seven months pregnant last year when her partner, 21-year-old Diego Verdugo-Sanchez, was gunned down. Smith said she had grown frustrated as detectives kept her in the dark about the investigation.

“The fact of them finding somebody, at least it was some type of news,” she said.

The hunt for the killer yielded more than 30,000 tips, and authorities said it was a tipster who provided the break in the case. But they would not elaborate, and details of the evidence assembled against Saucedo were sealed by a judge at prosecutors’ request.

Witnesses described the shooter as a young, lanky Hispanic man who drove a BMW, helping develop a sketch that bears a striking resemblance to Saucedo. Police said Saucedo had a BMW but stopped driving it and changed his appearance after the final shooting.

A call left Tuesday for Dean Roskosz, Saucedo’s court-appointed lawyer, wasn’t immediately returned.

Two weeks after Saucedo allegedly carried out the first killing, authorities seized the weapon in that crime from a Phoenix pawn shop. At the time, investigators were looking into a separate string of shootings that targeted drivers on Phoenix-area freeways.

But detectives with the Arizona Department of Public Safety never conducted ballistics tests on the gun and returned it to the pawn shop five days later once they ruled out the weapon in the freeway shootings.

Phoenix police refused to comment on whether the evidence could have led them to Saucedo before the random killings started nearly four months later.

Experts said some of the circumstances surrounding the case are unusual, including Saucedo’s young age.

Jack Levin, a retired professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University in Boston and the author of several books on serial killings, said most serial killers are in their 30s and 40s and their crimes rarely involve guns.

“Multiple homicides are much more likely to be committed by someone who is older, who has led a life of frustration over decades and has decided to get even with society,” Levin said.

Saucedo was a bus driver for the city of Phoenix through a temp agency for several months in 2015, police said.

Police said they would pay out a $75,000 reward offered for information that could help solve the case but declined to say how many people would get the money.

The break in the case came when Saucedo was arrested last month in connection with the August 2015 fatal shooting of 61-year-old Raul Romero, who had a relationship with Saucedo’s mother. Authorities investigated Saucedo more closely and connected him to the other killings.

Holly Cortes, who lives a few doors down from the house where one of the victims was fatally shot, said she was relieved police made an arrest. She said her husband and his friends began hanging out in the backyard instead of the front after the shootings.

“I’m glad they finally got — hopefully — the person that’s responsible,” Cortes said.

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