YUMA, Ariz. (AP) — A jury decided Friday that an Arizona prisoner convicted of killing six people in Yuma in 2005 should be sentenced to death.
Jurors reached their decision after several hours of deliberations in the case of Preston Strong, who was convicted last month of the gruesome killings of his best friend, the man’s girlfriend and her four young children in what prosecutors called a crime motivated by money.
Strong, 50, was found guilty April 25 of six counts of first-degree murder after a months-long trial.
He’s already serving a life prison sentence for a separate slaying in 2007.
Last week, jurors found aggravating factors in the case against Strong. They heard the defense’s presentation of mitigating factors and the prosecution’s aggravating factors this week before beginning deliberations late Friday morning.
Prosecutors said Strong spent hours killing 35-year-old Luis Rios, 29-year-old Adrienne Heredia and her four children, ages 6 to 13.
They said Strong suffocated Heredia and three of her children and fatally shot her youngest child and Rios.
Yuma police said the two oldest children were bound and strangled, the 9-year-old girl also had been strangled and the 6-year-old was bound by electric cords.
Strong and Rios had been arguing over money and how much time he had been spending with Heredia and her children, according to prosecutors who also said Rios had given Strong thousands of dollars over the years but decided to cut him off at some point before the killings, leading to a fight between the friends.
Prosecutors said fingerprint evidence was found on bags that were discovered near some of the victims while DNA evidence was on a nightstand and on the steering wheel of Rios’ car.
Lawyers for Strong had argued that the evidence was flimsy and that Strong’s DNA could have gotten on the family’s items because he spent a lot of time with them.
If the jury had decided against the death penalty, Yuma County Superior Court Judge Maria Elena Cruz would have had two options — sentencing Strong to life in prison without the possibility of parole, or sentencing him to life in prison with the possibility of parole after at least 25 years.
Strong is in prison for life in the 2007 killing of Satinder Gill, a Yuma physician who was strangled and bludgeoned in his home.
Prosecutors said a large amount of money was stolen.
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