Arizona man charged in 3 killings deemed mentally fit
PHOENIX — A man charged with killing three people in burglaries in metro Phoenix nearly six years ago that ended with the victims’ homes set on fire has been deemed by a judge to be mentally fit to move forward with his criminal case.
Michael Lee Crane of Mesa faces murder, kidnapping and other charges in the January 2012 killings of Bruce Gaudet at his Phoenix townhome and of Lawrence and Glenna Shapiro at the couple’s home in upscale suburb of Paradise Valley. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Superior Court Judge Warren Granville said in a ruling last week that Crane wanted to plead guilty in the murder case in February 2017, but the judge held off on resolving the case and instead ordered a mental health evaluation to determine Crane’s mental competency.
Crane had claimed he was Lucifer at a 2015 hearing over his mental competency and was removed from the courtroom at several hearings after making obscene statements to people inside the courtroom, according to court records.
It’s unclear now whether Crane intends to follow through on his earlier plans to plead guilty in the killings. His attorney, Herman Alcantar, did not return telephone messages seeking comment.
Granville wrote that there’s no dispute that Crane, who earlier in the case had refused to cooperate with his attorneys and tried unsuccessfully to represent himself, is aware of the circumstances and nature of the court proceedings.
The judge said the only issue over Crane’s mental fitness is whether his failure to consult with his lawyers was the result of a mental disease or a choice he made.
The latest ruling by Granville found Crane to be mentally fit to move forward and repeatedly noted that Crane cooperated with court proceedings when he was working toward a goal, such as making sure he could be excused from attending a court hearing.
“This court’s experience, over a long period of time and on many occasions, reflects a calculating decision-making process rather than an impelled compulsive behavior,” Granville wrote.
Most of the litigation in the murder case over the past 21 months has focused on Crane’s mental fitness.
Crane, 38, is still awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty in 2017 to separate but related crimes that were carried out in the days after the three killings.
In that case, Crane pleaded guilty to burglary, attempted burglary, aggravated assault and robbery charges in a February 2012 spree at several homes in metro Phoenix.
Authorities say shoes recovered at an attempted burglary scene during the spree had been stolen days earlier from Gaudet’s home. They said Crane’s DNA was found on the shoes. Prosecutors say Crane was known for removing his shoes before entering homes during burglaries.
Authorities say a gun used in the three killings was found in Crane’s possession when he was arrested in the separate crime spree.
In the killings, prosecutors say Crane bound and fatally shot the three victims at their homes, stole their jewelry and other valuables, and torched their homes. The Shapiros were killed four days after Gaudet.
Authorities have said Maricela Otilia Sanchez, 32, of Phoenix was found driving Gaudet’s SUV near Yuma on the same day he was killed. She has since pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and kidnapping in Gaudet’s death.
Sanchez was sentenced to nearly nine years in prison for the car theft, but is awaiting sentencing on her murder and kidnapping convictions.
Three other people accused of possessing items stolen in both fatal burglaries have since pleaded guilty to charges.
Two additional people also pleaded guilty to hindering prosecution for suppressing evidence that authorities believed would have led to Crane.
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