Cleophus Emmanuel Cooksey Jr. will stay behind bars until he stands trial, accused of in Maricopa County Superior Court of being one of Arizona’s most prolific serial killers.
But he may not face charges for one of the nine fatal shootings police say he committed, even though Cooksey had been named as a suspect in the murder of a Mexican cartel drug runner.
On December 11, Avondale police say, Cooksey entered his girlfriend’s apartment with murderous intent, pulled out a pistol, and shot Jesus Bonifacio Real as he lay, perhaps sleeping on a chaise.
The autopsy shows Real was shot point-blank twice in the face.
Police never recovered the shell casings. Real’s two sisters were charged with interfering with the investigation. Police suspect them of picking up the casings and taking Real’s cellphone from the crime scene before calling 911.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office “declined prosecution based on no reasonable likelihood of conviction,” spokeswoman Amanda Jacinto said in an email to the Phoenix New Times. She declined to elaborate.
Avondale police say they are still working the case.
“We’re still processing the evidence,” Avondale Police Department Sergeant Thomas Alt said. “It has not officially been charged.”
If Cooksey is ultimately charged in only eight deaths, it would drop him out of a tie with Aaron Saucedo, who has been charged with nine murders, and the Baseline Killer, Mark Goudeau, who has been convicted of nine, as the deadliest serial killer in Phoenix history.
On Tuesday, a judge ordered Cooksey held without bond, charged with shooting to death eight other people, including his mother, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Police said when they announced Cooksey’s arrest that Real was his fourth victim.
The killing fit a pattern with most, but not all, of the slayings: a close-up shooting of somebody Cooksey knew.
Police, court, and prison records depict, and his own amateurish hip-hop videos reinforce, that the 35-year-old Cooksey was a West Side City Crips gang member.
He emerged from a 16-year prison term in July, convicted of manslaughter after a 2000 stick-up of Mustang Sally’s, a Phoenix strip club, went wrong. A man behind the bar shot and killed Cooksey’s crime partner and friend. Another conspirator was convicted on felony murder charges. State law holds a criminal responsible for murder, even if they don’t pull the trigger during a felony crime.
The string of murders in Phoenix, Glendale, and Avondale began a day after the anniversary of the botched strip club caper.
The murder and history of 25-year-old Jesus Real and his family raise a string of tantalizing questions about Cooksey’s mindset when he got out.
At 3:28 p.m. on December 11, Avondale police got an emergency call to an apartment at 525 East Harrison Drive. When they arrived five minutes later, they found Real in a maroon shirt and blue jeans, slumped on his side, lifeless on a red chaise in a bedroom.
His body was cold, stiff, and discoloring. He had been dead awhile, at least three hours, maybe as long as nine.
Next to Real’s body was a cellphone charger and earbuds, but no phone. There were no shell casings in sight.
He had been shot twice in his right cheek, close enough to leave soot marks. The autopsy report later suggested pathologists found two deformed bullets, one brass, one steel, and fragments in his skull.
The entry wounds were a quarter-inch across. There were no exit wounds. Police said the wounds were consistent with those cause by a 9 mm pistol at close range.
Avondale detectives didn’t know it at the time, but nine days earlier, somebody in Phoenix had shot dead Salim Richards, 35, and stolen his 9 mm handgun. Police later said that was Cooksey.
At the Avondale apartment, the sisters Liliana and Griselda Vasquez talked to detectives. They lived there with their brother Jesus Real, and some days, Liliana’s boyfriend: Cooksey.
Lily and Cleo had broken up the night before. Cooksey was in the apartment until about two hours before they reported the shooting, the sisters told detectives. But by then, Real had already been dead.
The sisters, as well as Real’s girlfriend, Desaree Monique Coronado, all told police they didn’t know about the missing cellphone.
But police got a search warrant, traced the phone to a nearby motel and recovered the dead man’s phone from the women. All were booked into jail on suspicion of hindering a murder investigation and tampering with evidence. None has been charged in court yet.
This wasn't the first time Cooksey’s girlfriend Liliana Vasquez had been accused in court of covering for a gunman.
On August 30, 2012, a 17-year-old boy and a young man flagged down an ice cream truck in on East Brinker Road in Avondale. Everardo Flores and his wife, Lucila Gonzalez Mena, were in the truck.
The pair of young men asked for sodas. Mena got them. As she turned, the 17-year-old’s companion placed a black revolver on the counter and told her in Spanish to give him all their money.
Mena gave him the cash. The gun went off, striking Flores in the chest. The bullet punctured a lung, clipped his spine and fractured a rib. He lived.
“Oh shit,” one of the boys said before they took off running, one witness told police.
A witness reported hearing the 17-year-old and his girlfriend, Lily Vasquez, arguing later about a gun. She asked him, “Why did you do it?” He said it was an accident.
Vasquez later told police she went to the house were the gun had been stashed, retrieved it, and took it to Renee after the boy called to tell her about the robbery.
The 17-year-old pleaded guilty a year later.
But Avondale police weren't through. They arrested Vasquez and booked into jail on charges of hindering an investigation of an armed robbery and tampering with evidence.
Two cases, two boyfriends, two violent encounters with a handgun, almost identical charges. She made a plea deal, and copped to the tampering charge.
That was in 2013. At that time, Cooksey was in state prison.
So was Jesus Real.
His problems began on April 3 that year, when he was 21, according to court records from the case.
An Arizona Department of Public Safety officer was patrolling State Route 85 just north of Gila Bend. That’s where he saw a black Ford Crown Victoria speeding north. The radar clocked the Crown Vic at 77, clearly above the speed limit there.
The highway patrolman, in his marked cruiser, pulled the car over. As the officer stepped onto the shoulder, the car peeled out and sped north.
He gave chase, topping speeds above 100 mph. The car fled north, missed a spike strip, wheeled around though the median and took off southward. He was ordered to break off the pursuit, and he did.
But he’d gotten the license plate.
And Goodyear police had found the car. It was parked in the driveway of a house.
There, police picked up Jesus Real, Griselda Vasquez, and Ramon Humberto Moreno-Ramos, according to the report DPS submitted in court.
Back at DPS headquarters, Moreno nursed a swollen ankle and struggled to keep water down. He was dehydrated.
He told detectives he and eight others had backpacked bundles of marijuana across the border for a guy in Saurahita for $1,000. Two cars, including the Crown Vic driven by Real, picked the mules up along Interstate 8.
Moreno told detectives that a month earlier Border Patrol agents stopped them and told them they could carry on if they handed over $50,000.
He and the mules piled the bundles of pot into the cars and drove.
Griselda Vasquez told DPS detectives that Real was her brother and he’d called to tell her he was being chased by police in belonging to her stepbrother, Edgar Vasquez.
Later, DPS agents said in court records, she told detectives that Real was involved in trafficking and selling pot. She blamed Edgar for getting him mixed up in it.
Real was a little more candid when his turn in the interview room came. He told detectives that the Sinaloa Cartel and a guy called “El Cholo” paid him $600 for every bundle of pot he moved, and he typically took three of four loads a week, according to DPS records. Edgar got paid more, he said, because he acquired and registered the cars.
During the course of their investigation, detectives seized 180 pounds of shrink-wrapped compacted bundles of pot, which they estimated as worth $90,000 on the street.
When it came time for sentencing, the court had heard enough from Jesus Real. He had already been twice convicted after plea deals on a drug charges in the previous two years. One landed him 12-month prison sentence.
He told the court that he should only get two years in prison for his part in the smuggling ring.
The county probation department disagreed. Evaluators called Real a high risk. He was seldom employed, admitted his role in drug trafficking, continued to offend, insisted on living in gang-infested neighborhoods, had been treated for a cocaine addiction, and had been taking drugs since he was 11, they said in a sentencing report.
The judge gave him five years.
He did four months shy of four years, bouncing around three different prisons. Only his girlfriend, Desaree Coronado, and a couple of kids ever visited. He walked free in May. He lived a little more than six months. He died with speed and meth in his bloodstream, according to the autopsy.
In July, two months after Real was released, Cooksey walked free. Before that, his mother, Rene Cooksey had visited him, but not since 2013. Her boyfriend, Edward Nunn, was on the approved visitation list, but never made the trip to Lewis Prison. The Vasquez sisters were not on the list.
Five months after Cooksey got out, police testified in court in January, he shot his mother and Nunn dead in the Phoenix house where he was staying, after a neighbor heard a heated argument. In a raised voice Cooksey was ranting about Satan and the devil..
When police arrested Cooksey five months later, reporters asked if they thought he had been plotting revenge while he served out his term for the Mustang Sally’s shooting, because he knew so many of his victims, and several had histories of drug offenses.
Police said they didn’t know what Cooksey’s motives were.
They still aren’t saying. And no other cases have surfaced with connections to the rampage police pin on Cooksey.
Avondale police Sargeant Alt said the role of Vasquez sisters is “a hurdle our detectives have to deal with.” He added that detectives have confirmed that nothing links Cooksey to other cases in Avondale.
Phoenix police say no new cases have been linked to Cooksey.