Preston Lord among 259 Phoenix murders. Why is he getting all the attention? | Phoenix New Times


Preston Lord was among 259 homicides. Why is he getting all the attention?

The media keeps asking Rachel Mitchell about Preston Lord and the Gilbert Goons. Yet, Maricopa County had 258 other homicides in 2023.
Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell parried scores of questions from reporters about the Preston Lord homicide and Gilbert Goons during a Jan. 24 press conference.
Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell parried scores of questions from reporters about the Preston Lord homicide and Gilbert Goons during a Jan. 24 press conference. Katya Schwenk
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Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell spent most of her Jan. 24 press conference describing the “extraordinary amount of resources” her office has devoted to the investigation into the brutal beating and death of Preston Lord.

The 16-year-old was beaten at a Halloween party in Queen Creek on Oct. 28. He died two days later.

Mitchell told reporters that prosecutors are poring over the 2,000-page police report, 2,000 pieces of evidence and 600 videos submitted to her office in late December by the Queen Creek Police Department. All of it, she said, must be vetted for possible use against the seven suspects mentioned in the report.

Mitchell said she receives daily briefings on the Lord case and recently met with Lord's parents. Her staff is looking into any connection between Lord’s homicide and a spate of violence in Queen Creek and Gilbert, allegedly committed by a gang of East Valley teens known as the Gilbert Goons.

Asked how many people she has working on the Lord homicide, she said, “a lot."

“By that, I mean, we have investigators, we have prosecutors, we have support staff, we have victim advocates, we have criminal analysts … (and) paralegals dedicated to the review of this case,” she said.

Mitchell claimed her office was “moving quickly” on the case and said suspects may also face criminal street gang charges.

She also pointed to the Jan. 18 indictment of Christopher Fantastic and Aris Michael Arredondo. Both men, 18, are charged with aggravated robbery and aggravated assault for allegedly attacking a juvenile on Aug. 18.

Two other men — Noah Lee Pennington and William Owen Hines, both 18 — were indicted after Mitchell's press conference. Her office announced the indictments on Thursday. Pennington was charged with two counts of aggravated assault and one count of disorderly conduct for his alleged role in a Dec. 16, 2022, incident in Gilbert. Hines was charged with vehicular aggravated assault for his alleged role in a July 6 incident.

None of the indictments are related to the Lord case.

During the press conference, reporters pressed Mitchell on when indictments would come in Lord's homicide and whether she would seek the death penalty for his killers.

There are murderers walking the street, and children are fearful, one reporter said. Another reporter asked: Why not charge some people now while developing the case on others?

“I’m not in a situation where I can just lock them up and hope the evidence comes together,” Mitchell said. “If I go to a grand jury, all I have to show is probable cause, and then I'm just going to hope that I have a reasonable likelihood of conviction?

"That's not ethical, and we're not going to do it that way," she added.
click to enlarge Preston Lord died after being attacked in Queen Creek
Preston Lord died on Oct. 30, two days after he was attacked in Queen Creek. His death sparked outrage about teen violence in the East Valley.

‘We do care about other children’

The media’s intense interest in Lord and the Gilbert Goons was evidenced by the Arizona Republic sending two reporters to Mitchell's press conference to query her on the roiling controversy surrounding the case. ABC 15 sent three reporters.

Anger over the slow reaction by law enforcement and public officials to the Lord case recently led Gilbert Mayor Brigette Peterson to halt her re-election campaign. Mitchell is up for re-election in November, seeking her first four-year term.

Yet, Lord's killing was just one of 259 murders in Maricopa County in 2023, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

So New Times posed this question to Mitchell at her press conference: Is it unfair to other grieving families that the Lord case receives so much attention and resources? If the victim were a Black or hispanic kid in South Phoenix, would the reaction be different?

“I would ask you to look at our other recent efforts,” Mitchell responded. “One of the attorneys that’s working on (the Lord) case, for example, tried seven cases last year. We just got a 37-year sentence on somebody who murdered her child. So we do care about other children.”

Mitchell also pointed to her career as a sex crimes prosecutor.

“I spent the vast majority of my career protecting children of all colors,” she said.

In a November press conference, Mitchell was asked about the murder of Jake Kelly, a gay man brutally beaten to death in North Phoenix in September.

Jan Kelly, Kelly's mother, wanted to meet with Mitchell, and a reporter asked if the county attorney would do so. Mitchell replied that she doesn't usually meet with family members of victims, leaving that to her prosecutors.

Reminded of this at the Jan. 24 press conference, Mitchell agreed that she doesn't normally meet with grieving victims. But in the Lord homicide, she explained, she did so to combat “misinformation” being spread about the case. She wanted to explain to Lord’s parents the process to indict possible suspects.

New Times then asked Mitchell if the media was driving the Lord investigation.

She said no. This case was “extraordinary” given the size of the police report and “because there are so many people who potentially were witnesses.” That necessitated the additional staff working on the investigation, she explained.
click to enlarge Jake Kelly died on Sept. 8.
Jake Kelly was beaten and left in the driveway of his north Phoenix home on Aug. 27. He died from his injuries on Sept. 8.
Courtesy Jan Kelly

Are the Gilbert Goons really a gang?

As for the Gilbert Goons, despite the massive amounts of near daily attention they've received since the Arizona Republic published its investigation in December, they are hardly the only criminal group in the Valley.

Heston Silbert, former director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety and an authority on street gangs, called them a “hybrid gang" — a criminal street gang with a nontraditional structure. A hybrid gang is less established and may be short-lived, but it can be as violent as better-known gangs, he said.

“These Gilbert Goons, they're a hybrid gang that pops up and goes down, but they're nonetheless a gang,” Silbert told New Times.

Silbert said metro Phoenix is plagued by several hundred gangs.

Arizona law defines a criminal street gang as “an ongoing formal or informal association of persons whose members or associates individually or collectively engage in the commission, attempted commission, facilitation or solicitation of any felony act and that has at least one individual who is a criminal street gang member.”

The law specifies that a “criminal street gang member” must meet two of seven criteria, such as having gang tattoos and self-identifying as a member of a gang.

DPS declined to provide the names of the Valley's most violent and active gangs.

“As a matter of policy, we never discuss individual gangs in Maricopa County. We never want to give them publicity," DPS spokesperson Bart Graves said in an email.

But news reports from recent years offer numerous examples of gang activity in metro Phoenix.

A 2020 news story from Channel 12 named the Westside Crips “the most arrested gang in Maricopa County,” followed by the Aryan Brotherhood, the Peckerwoods MC, the Mexican Mafia and Southside Mesa.

In June 2022, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Arizona announced indictments for “conspiracy to distribute cocaine, conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, or both” for 22 members of the Lindo Park Crips.

A Fox 10 piece in January 2023 described a fatal drive-by shooting, allegedly by two members of the West Side City Crips. And a September 2023 press release from the county attorney’s office lauded Deputy County Attorney Dan Fisher, who received an award for “two trials involving the prosecution of members of the West Side City Crips, one of the largest gangs in the Valley.”

And recently, New Times has reported on two gang-related murders of gay men in the Valley.

Yet, the Gilbert Goons — at least for the moment — have a monopoly on media attention.

Silbert put it all into perspective.

“The people in Gilbert and Queen Creek, in particularly the victim's family, should be devastated and outraged by what happened,” he said.

“But every senseless murder that happens should receive the same type of outrage," he added. "Unfortunately, they don't.”
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