The Maricopa County Attorney's Office fought for several years to put accused murderer Craig Michael Devine on death row, but on Wednesday, the county gave up on executing him. Devine, 39, is one of two men who were charged with murder in a gruesome 2010 double homicide in a Tempe warehouse.
It was a stunning development for a prosecutor's office known for doubling down on capital cases — particularly high-profile ones, like that of convicted murderess Jodi Arias, which cost taxpayers more than $3 million as it wound its way through the court system. But neither Devine nor his co-defendant, local white supremacist Charles Rodney Mullen, will ever be mistaken for the telegenic Arias, whose lurid 2013 trial and 2014 sentencing retrial were gobbled up by cable watchers.
Six years ago, Devine and Mullen, 50, were charged with the brutal murders of 19-year-old John Call Jr. and 53-year-old James Mosteller. The latter victim owned the warehouse at 1714 E. Curry Road in Tempe, which doubled as his home and became a killing floor on August 5, 2010.
Mullen accepted a plea deal for the murders in 2015 and received two concurrent life terms, which under Arizona law means he is "not eligible for commutation, parole, work furlough, work release, or release from confinement on any basis."
But the prosecution had persisted in seeking the death penalty for Devine, in part because police and the county attorney believed he'd been set on revenge against Call's father, John Call Sr. According to court records, the elder Call had cooperated with police in 2002, helping to put Devine in prison on an aggravated-assault charge.
Not long after Devine was paroled on that conviction in 2010, he made a beeline for Mosteller's warehouse, inquiring about Call Sr., who was a friend of Mosteller.
Two months later, Call Jr. and Mosteller lay dead.
Police theorized that Devine and Mullen intended to take out Call Sr., but changed their minds when they found Mosteller and Call Jr. at the warehouse.
Apparently, a recent switch in the line prosecutors handling the case morphed into a reconsideration of the endgame, and for unknown reasons, deputy county attorney Susie Charbel altered course, offering Devine two life sentences to run consecutively — a mostly symbolic gesture that could serve as a form of insurance for the prosecution in the unlikely event that one of the convictions is overturned.
As part of his plea deal, Devine was made to describe the details of his crime as he stood in stripes and handcuffs yesterday in front of Superior Court Judge Peter Reinstein. Bespectacled, with a shaven head and a short mustache, Devine casually depicted the murders as the result of a burglary gone bad.
Devine said that on the day of the killings, he and Mullen arrived at the warehouse at about 9:30 a.m., armed with guns and knives. They'd been there for 20 minutes, he said, when "Jim showed up." The two men restrained Mosteller with his hands behind his back and sat him in a chair. Then, unexpectedly, "John Call Jr. just walked into the warehouse." The pair trussed up Call as they had Mosteller.
Devine told the court that his codefendant "shot them in the head," after which Devine "cut both of their throats to make sure they were dead." (Police say Devine nearly decapitated the two men.) Under questioning by Charbel, he admitted that he had known Call Sr. since 1999 but maintained that his and Mullen's motivation had been to "rob the place for money."
After the judge set formal sentencing for September 16, Devine was escorted out of the courtroom by a sheriff's deputy. Before he disappeared from view, he gazed at the gallery with an expressionless face.
Afterward, Gina Lopez, Call Jr.'s sister, told New Times she thought Devine was sending a message to the family to let them know that "we didn't break him." Wiping away tears, she expressed disappointment that Devine would not get the death penalty but said the family was pleased that at least the life sentences would be served consecutively.
The Maricopa County Attorney's Office did not respond to New Times' request for comment about the abrupt change in the prosecution's strategy in the case.
New Times wrote about Mullen in 2010, detailing how the Phoenix Police Department's Career Criminal Squad had targeted the Arizona contingent of the Vinlanders Social Club, a racist skinhead organization. Mullen was one of more than a dozen Vinlanders taken off the street and prosecuted for various crimes.
Of Mullen, New Times noted at the time that:
One other alleged Vinlander snagged is Charles "Whitey" Mullen, an ex-con and prohibited possessor, arrested with three pistols in his residence and a stash of marijuana in his freezer.
Mullen reportedly has a picture of Nazi Rudolf Hess tattooed on the side of his torso, and one of Adolf Hitler on his head. Talk about cognitive dissonance. Hitler wanted Hess executed if he ever came into German hands after his flight to England in 1941.
In fact, Mullen was in prison for misconduct involving weapons when police linked him to Devine and the warehouse murders, a crime that shocked and mystified Tempe at the time.
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When Mullen was sentenced in 2015 for the slayings of Call Jr. and Mosteller, supporters of Call Jr. wrote the court, asking for justice, though a plea deal had already been agreed upon.
One letter called Call Jr. "an asset to the community [whose murder] left us with a void that cannot be filled."
Another remembered Call Jr. as a young man with "a positive attitude ... [and] an amazing determination to assist others." Save for the dates, not much of that letter would look out of place at Devine's upcoming sentencing hearing.
"We understand justice is to prevail on January 12, 2015," reads the letter, part of the court file. "The perpetrator, regardless of the conditions, still lives. This of course is considered closure to some, but only partial closure to the family and friends who will forever speculate what J.C. Call [Jr.] would have contributed to life."