Crime

The Family of a Guadalupe Woman Shot During a Violent Crime Spree Wants Justice

Ray Stern
Josephine Marquez, 85, holds a T-shirt made to honor her daughter, also named Josephine, following her death.
It was about 2 p.m. on October 26, 2020, when a neighbor called 85-year-old Josephine Marquez of Guadalupe and told her that something was terribly wrong: Her daughter, Josie, was lying motionless on the driveway.

Marquez and one of her sons who lived with her rushed outside to the gated front yard. There, just inside the low, chain-link gate, was the younger Josephine, 49 years old. Blood was seeping from wounds in her chest and back.

"She looked at me and then just closed her eyes," Marquez said.

Before she was shot, a neighbor later said, Josie had been arguing for a few minutes with a man while standing in the front yard. The gate at the end of the driveway was still closed.


An ambulance came and took the shot woman to Banner Mesa Hospital. She was later transferred to Banner's Phoenix hospital. But she checked herself out about a week and a half later, family members said, complaining of the care she received there.

"She was always sick after that," her mother said.

Josie was unemployed at the time and had recently moved in with her mother and brother in the home in Guadalupe, a small town tucked between Tempe and Phoenix populated mostly by Latinos and Yaqui natives. Their front yard is full of knick-knacks acquired over the years; when Phoenix New Times stopped by, two yapping chihuahuas on long strings were tangled in the patio furniture and rusting children's swing set. Marquez's brother, who didn't want his name published, said Josie lived in the carport.

Back home after the shooting, Josie had little appetite, was often in pain, and her chest wound was "open" and looking bad, her brother said. "She said the doctors weren't doing nothing for her," he said. "They shouldn't have let her come out, but they did."

Banner Health spokesperson Rebecca Armendariz said the company couldn't comment on her case.

Marquez died at home on December 15. The elder Marquez brought out a shirt that had been made for the funeral with Josie's picture.

"She was my Number 12 Baby," Marquez said, her face scrunched in anguish as tears fell from her eyes. She has felt this grief before — Josie was the eighth of her 12 children to have passed. "I'm always going to miss her."

To date, no one has been charged in Josie's death. "We don't know if there's going to be any justice," her brother said.

Josie was, in fact, the second person shot that day as part of a violent afternoon crime spree. Over the previous three hours, three men and a woman in a white Toyota Camry had threatened to shoot a Circle K clerk while they stole some booze, ripped off four tires and wheels that a homeowner was trying to sell, and left a man's bullet-riddled body in front of a Mesa home because he didn't immediately surrender a backpack. Then they arrived in Guadalupe.

The Spree

Early that Monday morning, Phoenix resident Ashley Herrell drove her child to school in the white Camry before taking off for the day, her mother would later tell police.

Carie Herrell had rented the car a few weeks prior after her pickup broke down, but Ashley, who lived with her mother, usually drove it. The car was due back at the Avis outfit on Bell Road that day. Ashley agreed to meet her mom there at 2:30 p.m. so they could extend the rental time.

Police would end up seizing the vehicle, which was splashed with blood, at about that time. Between then and the time Herrell dropped her kid at school, video surveillance cameras on homes and businesses had captured the car and its occupants' heinous activities in explicit detail.

Just before 11:30 a.m., the Camry showed up at a convenience store in Mesa. Vincent Culbreath Jr., who like Herrell was in his late 30s, had by then taken over driving duties. Joquan Bailey and Stephon Mitchell, both 18, were in the back seat. The three men went inside while Herrell stayed in the car. They stole two bottles of alcohol, and when a clerk attempted to stop them, Bailey raised his shirt in a threatening display of the handgun he had tucked in his waistband.

click to enlarge Vincent Culbreath Jr. and Ashley Herrell - MESA PD
Vincent Culbreath Jr. and Ashley Herrell
Mesa PD
At noon, the car stopped in front of a home in Mesa in a neighborhood near West University Drive and North Sycamore. Culbreath Jr., who'd been driving, got out to talk with a man with a backpack walking on the sidewalk. Herrell remained in the passenger seat. The group had picked Brandon Van, a 38-year-old father, apparently at random.

Inside the home, a woman taking care of her child could hear the two arguing for several minutes about directions. Van walked away from Culbreath Jr., who got back in the car and followed him. The woman peeked outside in time to see the man with the backpack get shot in the back, to hear him screaming, to see two men keep shooting at the victim. She ran to her bathroom with her child, locked the door, and called the police.

Another witness said it sounded like the assailants were demanding money from the victim. In the video evidence, the Mesa police report on the incident states, Van runs to another home and tries to hide behind a concrete planter. Mitchell continued to fire at him.

"I ain't done nothing!" a witness heard Van yell. "I ain't got nothing!"

He surrenders, putting his backpack on the planter and standing up with his hands in the air. Mitchell then shoots him in the back and takes the backpack. Culbreath goes through Van's pockets, then pushes him down and punches him. Bailey walks up to Van and shoots him eight times, killing him. The men jump back in the car and take off.

About a half-hour later, the group stole four tires and wheels that had been set out for sale in front of a home. A Mesa training officer who had heard calls come in about the Camry being involved in the shooting and theft was supervising recruits at the intersection of University Drive and Higley Road when he saw the suspect vehicle driving with a rear door open. It pulled into the parking lot of the Flower Shop marijuana dispensary on the intersection's southeast corner, where it was once again caught on video. The men rearranged the wheels and tires so all four doors could close. Bailey sat on Herrell's lap in the front seat.

The vehicle was then spotted around 2 p.m. in Guadalupe, where witnesses say one of the suspects shot Marquez in the chest.

click to enlarge Stephon Mitchell and Jaquan Bailey - MESA PD
Stephon Mitchell and Jaquan Bailey
Mesa PD
Finally, at 2:30 p.m., police received a call about a group of people fighting and shooting in the parking lot of a business near 24th Street and University in Phoenix. Cops converged on the location and arrested all four. Culbreath and Herrell appeared to be injured, though not from gunfire.

Police recovered a .40 caliber Glock 35 with a laser sight and "drum style magazine" with a 50-round capacity and 20 rounds still inside, and a 9mm Glock 43.

Police interviewed Carie Herrell at her home, having traced the car to her after the convenience store robbery. She said she had gone to the Avis rental place at 2:30 p.m. and called Ashley to see where she was. Ashley told her she was bleeding and had just been robbed, her mother informed police.

The father of Ashley's child showed up at the home while police were still talking to Carie. He said he had talked to Ashley at about 2:30 p.m. about who would pick the kid up from school.

"He said she had seemed normal when he spoke to her," the report says.

The Denial

Brandon Van had three children and worked as a journeyman electrician and landscaper, according to an online memorial and his Facebook page.

"Man of the G** Damn Year," someone wrote in the condolences section.

"A caring loving soul. taken away by cowards," read another. "A real brother a real friend."

After robbing and killing Van, the suspects tossed away his mobile phone at another convenience store. They apparently found nothing of real value in his backpack. Police found a notebook in the pack with "diary entries" and notes. His mother immediately identified his handwriting in it when police sent a photo of a page to her.

The report indicates that Van's body contained at least seven open or circular wounds.

When police finally caught up with the group, the younger men, Bailey and Mitchell, went ballistic.

click to enlarge Brandon Van - FACEBOOK
Brandon Van
Facebook
"Bailey was banging his head and kicking at the Phoenix patrol car door and Mitchell, while being restrained, was screaming for officers to kill him and fighting," the report says.

Each of the four denied their involvement, despite the voluminous video evidence that Mesa police say will be released in a few months. Face masks obscured the suspects' faces some of the time, but not all, according to the report, and all four can be seen wearing the same clothes in all the videos.

Mitchell claimed he was on Xanax and had slept for parts of the day. He denied shooting or robbing anyone. At the Phoenix business where they were caught, he claimed that Culbreath had tried to shoot him and they were fighting for one of the guns when it went off.

Bailey talked to officers about "his gang involvement" and the shooting incident at the Phoenix business, but denied taking part in robberies or a murder. He also said he was asleep in the car for part of the day.

"He said he was not on any video shooting anyone because he had not done anything like that, and he wanted to see the video before talking about it," the report says.

Herrell said that after she met her boyfriend, Culbreath, she basically slept all day in the car. She hadn't heard any gunshots, noticed a gun on her seat, or noticed when Bailey had been sitting on her lap.

The three men have been indicted by a grand jury on eight counts each, including first-degree murder, armed robbery, and assisting a street gang. Herrell was originally charged with first-degree murder and three counts of armed or aggravated robbery, but those charges were dropped and she was indicted only for car theft and being a felon in possession of a weapon. She was released on her own recognizance in December; the three men remain in jail.

The case is tentatively scheduled to go to trial this summer.

Complications

It's still unknown why Josie Marquez was shot. In the Mesa report, police vaguely state that she was trying to intervene during an attempted robbery by the group. The report deems the case "gang-motivated." But Mesa isn't handling the Marquez investigation because it was in Guadalupe. The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, which contracts with Guadalupe to provide police services, has its own report on Marquez's shooting, but it's not yet ready for public release.

"Murder charges have not been submitted as the manner of death is still pending from the Medical Examiner’s Office," MCSO spokesperson Norma Gutierrez-Deorta said when asked about the status of the case.

Sergeant Joaquin Enriquez elaborated further on the case at Phoenix New Times' request, saying the MCSO report had nothing to contradict Mesa police's information about Marquez trying to intervene in a robbery, but said the attackers were trying to rob someone else, not Marquez. It's unclear what she did to intervene from her driveway other than speak to the suspects.

One of the Marquez family's neighbors reportedly saw the shooting.

"They tried to kill me!" the neighbor told New Times when asked about it. He didn't know the suspects, he said, nor did he want to give his name. He added that he could possibly talk about the incident later, but never called back.

Enriquez said that as far as investigators can tell, as with the Mesa crimes, the suspects didn't know any of their victims. The Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner is waiting for toxicology results that will help determine whether Marquez died of the gunshot wound or "some outlying factor," he said.

The elder Marquez and her son know that the suspects have been accused in Van's murder, and they believe someone needs to be held accountable for what happened to Josie.

A criminal charge is "not going to bring my daughter back," she said, it's "for my heart."