A sense of justice remains elusive for two Gilbert residents whose son was murdered in 2017 during a planned home invasion.
Last month, the two perpetrators, Jordan Hosey and Torre Sanders, were sentenced to prison terms of 19 and 22 years, respectively, by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Ronee Korbin Steiner, following their acceptance of plea deals. They were 19 and 22 years old, coincidentally, at the time of sentencing.
In a letter to the court before the sentencing hearing on November 1, Guy Mullins, writing on behalf of him and his wife, Tessie, described the perpetrators' range of possible prison terms in the plea deals as "insultingly short."
When contacted by Phoenix New Times last week, Tessie Mullins made clear that as she and her family continue to cope with their grief and sorrow, they are not pleased with the final sentences, describing how they felt the system let them down.
Tessie Mullins told New Times she was "shocked" that in his plea deal, Hosey got less than the maximum of 25 years, and less time than Sanders received, "even though he [Hosey] was the one that smothered Shane."
Shane Mullins was 27 when he was brutally attacked at his home on the night of November 27, 2017, by Hosey and Sanders, who had planned to rob him because they believed — correctly, according to evidence in the case — that he was a marijuana dealer.
Hosey, who was 17 at the time, and Sanders, who was 20, surprised Mullins in his backyard when he went outside to smoke a cigarette. They began beating him before dragging him back inside his home, according to a neighbor who happened to be looking out a window at the time.
They continued beating him inside, Hosey later confessed to police. They tied up Mullins with extension cords and shoved a rag into his mouth. When one of Mullins' friends arrived at the front door of the house, Hosey sat on Mullins to prevent him from making noise, ultimately suffocating him.
The neighbor had summoned police to Mullins' home at about 9 p.m., but the first Gilbert police officer on the scene did not immediately enter the home. The officer went to the neighbor's backyard and saw one of the suspects in Mullins' home trying to cover a window with cardboard. After talking to the neighbor, officers entered the home through the back door.
They were too late to save Mullins' life. They found him bound and lifeless.
Officers caught Hosey and Sanders in Mullins' attic, where they had tried to hide with bags containing cash and marijuana, court records showed.
Hosey and Sanders were booked into jail on suspicion of first-degree murder, kidnapping, and burglary. But after two years of court proceedings, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office allowed them to plead guilty to second-degree murder and kidnapping, with possible sentencing ranges of 15 to 22 years in Sanders' case, and 16 to 25 years in Hosey's. They each received five years' probation on the kidnapping charge, in addition to their prison sentences.
"Our lawmakers have created different punishments for those things," said Jennifer Liewer, spokesperson for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. "We do the best we can to try to work with people. Our goal is to make sure these families feel they got justice."
Tessie Mullins said she and her husband showed up to court at least once a month during proceedings that lasted nearly two years.
After their son's funeral, prosecutors floated the idea of the death penalty, but that was soon ruled out, to the parents' relief. The Mullinses didn't want any other parents to experience the devastation they had felt from losing a child, Guy wrote in the letter to the court.
They also became opposed to the idea of a trial.
"We could have gone to trial" in the Mullins case, but the Mullinses did not want to, Liewer told New Times.
"We did not want to prolong the process any longer," Tessie Mullins confirmed.
If the case had gone to trial as a first-degree murder case in the case of Sanders, then in theory, a conviction could have meant sentences for natural life without the possibility of parole for the pair.
However, Liewer noted that there were several considerations that prosecutors needed to take into account when deciding whether to go to trial. One was that Hosey, then 17, had been read his Miranda rights as a juvenile before he confessed to murdering Mullins, yet was charged as an adult.
"The confession by Hosey could have been challenged in court," Liewer said. After being read his rights the night of the murder, Hosey asked for his mother, she said. "When his mother could not be located, officers returned to Hosey and he provided the confession. A defense challenge to his confession was something we had to consider."
Mitigating circumstances would also have been taken into account, and for Hosey, one of those would have been his age at the time of the crime. Sentences of natural life with no possibility of parole for juveniles are controversial, and banned in most states, though not Arizona. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court banned mandatory natural life sentences for juveniles.
But in Arizona, a judge can impose a no-parole, natural life sentence on a juvenile. Earlier this year, the Arizona Legislature failed to pass a bipartisan bill to change that law and require parole eligibility after 25 years for juveniles.
At a jury trial, another likely roadblock to winning longer sentences in the Mullins case would have been the extensive evidence of black-market marijuana dealing and cultivation found at Shane Mullins' home.
Gilbert police found digital scales and used baggies with labels including "Bubba OG" and "Cotton Candy," a police report states. They found a grow-lamp bulb, "Hydro Farm" light hoods, carbon filters, a "marijuana grow fan," packaged pills, and a pill-making machine. They found packaged pot in a kitchen cabinet, in a bedroom, and under a couch cushion. In a duffel bag and backpack, they found thousands of dollars of items, including 2.3 pounds of cannabis flower, eight bottles of Mike B brand "THC syrup," and 50 500-milligram Timeless vape cartridges. Mullins had an Arizona medical marijuana card, but the statutory possession limit for patients at any given time is 2.5 ounces.
Gilbert police found a receipt from Arizona Organix dispensary in Glendale for 32 items totaling $723.86; the receipt also contained Mullins' medical marijuana patient card number. In one bedroom, cops found a piece of paper — labeled by Gilbert PD as Evidence Item #56 — containing "handwritten chemical names, quantities, dates, prices, and a total. The total read, $140,290 (Spent)."
The Plea Bargains
Earlier this year, the prosecutors' office presented several potential deals in which Hosey and Sanders could take a plea bargain for second-degree murder. As Liewer pointed out, the statutory maximum for second-degree murder is 22 years, and additional sentences for related crimes can run concurrently.
During the many months of proceedings, Sanders was initially offered a plea deal of 18 to 25 years, then 16 to 25 years. The deal he finally took was 15 to 22 years. During all that time, according to the Mullinses, the family agonized as Sanders changed defense lawyers and even represented himself for a time, while his side kept up his defense with motions that the Mullinses thought were designed to delay the process.
Court records show that Sanders told Judge Steiner he didn't believe he was a murderer, but he agreed the police report was accurate.
Sanders chose to "accept the plea deal so he can provide some sort of closure for the victim's family," according to a presentence report by adult probation officer Consuelo Perez. "He hopes one day the victim's family can forgive him."
Perez wrote that Sanders "minimizes his crime conduct" and noted that at the time of the Mullins robbery and murder, Sanders had a warrant out for his arrest for skipping court proceedings in a marijuana case. Taking those factors into account, and considering "the violent manner in which the victim was killed, the presence of an accomplice, and [that] money and drugs were a motive," Perez recommended a prison sentence greater than the presumptive term of 16 years for second-degree murder, adding that the presumptive term for kidnapping — five years in prison, in this case — should be tacked on consecutively to the murder sentence.
Judge Steiner's sentence for Sanders exceeded Perez's recommended combined total of 21 years, giving Sanders the highest allowable sentence under the plea deal.
On his Facebook page before his arrest, Sanders wrote that he had attended Arizona State University and was a former personal trainer for L.A. Fitness. Perez wrote that Sanders currently plans to earn an associate degree degree in prison, study law, and hopes to become a personal trainer and own a business when he's released.
Matthew Schwartzstein, a private attorney hired by Sanders for a brief time during the proceedings, declined to comment on the case.
Remorse and Mitigation
Jordan Hosey was first offered a plea deal of 18 to 25 years. The deal he ultimately took included a range of between 16 and 25 years.
In the end, Judge Steiner declined to sentence Hosey to the maximum of 25 years in his plea deal, giving him 19 years — three fewer than Sanders received. Tessie Mullins said she and Guy were "surprised" by the judge's decision in Hosey's case.
"The conviction for Jordan Hosey was less than what we had hoped for," Tessie Mullins told New Times.
However, Hosey, who'd been living at home with his mother in Tempe up until his arrest, was reportedly "extremely remorseful" about the murder, Perez wrote.
Originally from Chicago, he had dropped out of school in the 10th grade. According to texts obtained by police, the teen was recruited by Sanders, who needed "an extra pair of hands for the job."
Hosey's mother appeared at the sentencing to give mitigating evidence, Liewer said.
Hosey's court-appointed attorney, Theodore Saldivar of the Maricopa County Public Defender's Office, said Hosey was "one of the most remorseful clients I've ever had." The sentence of 19 years actually represented a "slightly aggravated" sentence, he said, but mitigating factors included Hosey's mental health and his upbringing. Saldivar called Hosey on Monday to ask him for comment, then relayed the prisoner's message to New Times.
Hosey didn't want to comment on his sentencing "out of respect for the family," Saldivar said. "He didn't want to comment because he does feel terrible for them and terrible about what happened and what he did. He didn't think he was going to get a second chance, and he felt very bad for the family, who would never get the chance to see their son again."
In the letter before sentencing, Guy Mullins wrote that as the case wore on, his family felt emotionally drained. This exhaustion clouded their judgment in working with the prosecutor's office on possible plea bargains, they wrote.
By the time of sentencing, they "struggled" with the plea deals that had been hammered out.
"Frankly, the terms seem insultingly short relative to the crimes," they wrote. "The terms are apparently the result of inefficiencies and inequities in the process."
They wrote how it "pained" them to argue for 22 years in Sanders, the maximum available. The system also "worked out in Hosey's favor," too, the letter said. "Justice in the crime ... would be better served by more significant and lengthy sentencing than that which the current system affords."
Tessie Mullins told New Times how, "between changing judges, changing lawyers," the fact that Sanders defended himself for a time, and the many motions filed in the case, which the family felt were designed to delay proceedings, led to their feelings of frustration with the process.
"The only constant was Ms. [Mayar] Daiza, the prosecutor, which we are thankful for," Tessie Mullins said. "She worked diligently to try to bring the whole matter to the best conclusion possible."
The only satisfaction of the justice system experience is that "we can move forward from this part of our lives," Mullins said.
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The end of the prosecution will allow the Mullins family and Shane's friends to focus on getting past their heartbreak, she explained. Shane Mullins was close not only with his parents and two siblings, but also to members of his extended family, and he had a large circle of friends, according to his parents.
Shane was also an ASU student. He was set to graduate the month after his murder. In December 2017, Guy and Tessie Mullins accepted his bachelor's of science degree in technological entrepreneurship and management at ASU's graduation ceremony.
When contacted by New Times last Wednesday, Tessie Mullins said she had been just about to leave the house to place flowers on her son's grave.
"He's with us always," she said.