Tomorrow is the day that Samuel Dieteman gets to do what his victims could not: ask someone to spare his life.
The 33-year-old is the confessed second gunman in the Serial Shooter killing spree, which came to a boil in the Phoenix area three years ago this summer. By the end of it, at least eight people were dead and dozens of others wounded. The main shooter, Dale Hausner, was sentenced to death earlier this year for his role in the spree. Authorities have said Dieteman joined in the violence only during the the latter part of it, taking part in two of the killings and several other shootings.
On Wednesday, opening arguments are scheduled to begin in a sort of mini-trial in Maricopa County Superior Court in downtown Phoenix, where a jury will be asked to decide whether Dieteman should be put to death for the murders of Claudia Gutierrez-Cruz and Robin Blasnek. Dieteman has already pleaded guilty to the crimes and will be asking for the greatest mercy he can receive under a plea agreement — life in prison without parole.
For the prosecutors, the task of asking for his death will not be an easy one. Despite his heinous crimes, Dieteman has served as their ally for the past two years, a star witness in the case against Dale Hausner, as well as in a successful attempted-murder trial against the serial killer’s brother, Jeff Hausner. Without Dieteman’s eyewitness testimony in both cases, convictions would have been much harder to come by.
For his defense team, the task of fighting for his life is equally daunting. A recovering alcoholic and methamphetamine user, Dieteman isn’t exactly a sympathetic figure. He was involved in one of the worst crime sprees in state history. But he is not entirely unlikeable either. The former transient has confessed his crimes, shown remorse and cooperated with authorities. In other words, he has done everything a murder defendant is supposed to do.
Dieteman also appears to have some amount of deep internal conflict about it all, an emotion that has just barely shown itself to the public. As recently as October, he called his plea agreement “bogus” in a letter to a friend and fought behind the scenes with his lead attorney, Maria Schaffer. Then in January, he testified that he has had a change of heart.
As for whether he deserves the death penalty, Dieteman has said he does. “If I were on the jury to decide my fate,” he testified earlier this year, “yes sir, I would vote for death,”
The trial is expected to wrap up by the end of the month.
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