Death Row Diaries: New technology and a little luck used to link Daren Bolton to a child's murder

Police training exercise links man to murder
Posted at 9:31 AM, Apr 30, 2016
and last updated 2018-07-26 18:47:42-04

Arizona’s most notorious death row inmates past and present have incredible stories.

A new computer fingerprinting system, used in a training exercise four years after the crime, links a child's murder to Daren Lee Bolton.



Date of Birth: September 27, 1966
Executed: June 19, 1996

The crime: On June 27, 1986 a man entered a Tucson home through a bedroom window and kidnapped little Zosha Lee Pickett who was just shy of her third birthday.

Her body was found four days later, by some boys playing in the area of an abandoned taxi cab, parked at a nearby storage lot. Her untorn clothing covered the stab wound to her chest, and her underwear was found in another part of the cab.

Fingerprints were found on the screen outside her window and on the outside and the inside of the cab. 

Investigators also found a pizza box, cigarette butts and a semen-stained sock. The fingerprints were not able to be linked to any known suspects in the area. So Tucson police sent the fingerprint samples to jurisdictions around the country.

Four years later, a crazy break in the case

Four years later there's a crazy break in the case. Police in Illinois, training on a new computer system, matched the fingerprints sent to them by Tucson police to Daren Lee Bolton. His fingerprints happened to be on file there because of an arrest in Champaign, Illinois on assault charges in 1984.

Bolton was already in prison on an unrelated sex crime. He was indicted for the kidnapping and murder of Zosha Lee Pickett in February 1991.

The trial: The fingerprints played a large part in the trial. Bolton testified at the trial that he had indeed been at the home. He said he was there with an accomplice, planning to steal drugs. He said they were scared off by the family dog. Bolton claimed it was this accomplice that returned later to kidnap the child. Bolton said he killed the accomplice and dumped his body in the desert.

Bolton also admitted to touching the taxi cab. He said he stole some parts out of it a few days before the murder.

The jury found him guilty of murder with 11 of the 12 jurors believing it was pre-meditated.

During sentencing the prosecution presented evidence saying the victim was alive for some time after being stabbed. Fingerprints were found on the back window of the cab which prosecutors said indicated that she was standing up after being stabbed.

The prosecution provided evidence, "that a person with similar injuries to the victim would have suffered 'excruciating pain' while she died over a fifteen to thirty minute period.”

psychologists testified that his parents were mentally and physically abusive to Bolton

The defense contended for leniency on several fronts.

They cited Bolton’s age, he was 19-years-old at the time of the murder.

They cited his abusive childhood, his sister and the psychologists testified that his parents were mentally and physically abusive to Bolton.

The presented the fact that he was in institutions throughout his childhood.

They said Bolton did not understand his conduct would create a grave risk of death.

They argued that his conviction was for felony murder not premeditated murder.

Philip Balch, Ph.D., who examined defendant in 1981 when he was fifteen years old, testified that, "at that time defendant, showed aggressive behavior, difficulty controlling his temper, and impulse control problems."

Todd Flynn, Ph.D., testified that from his own examination, "Bolton showed no signs of any mental defect, e.g., impaired intelligence, mental retardation, or organic brain dysfunction."

Bolton always proclaimed his innocence, but never fought his execution and did not attend his clemency hearing

Bolton always proclaimed his innocence, but never fought his execution and did not attend his clemency hearing.

The execution: June 19, 1996

Bolton’s family did not attend the execution. Bolton needed to invite them and he would not.

The parents of Zosha Lee Pickett were among the 40 witnesses. Her father saying, “The death he received is nothing compared with the terror and agony he put Zosha through.”

It took about two minutes for Bolton to die of lethal injection. One media witness said,” I expected to see him frightened, or angry, or defiant or remorseful or something…there was nothing.”

Last meal: None

Last words: None


Information gathered from AZ. Dept. of Corrections, AZ. Attorney General’s Office and

State v. Bolton, 182 Ariz. 290, 299, 896 P.2d 830, 839 (1995)