Arizona’s most notorious death row inmates past and present have incredible stories, including this one where a husband and wife, both critically stabbed, walk into their home arm in arm.
ERNEST VALENCIA GONZALES
Date of Birth: February 8, 1964
Sentenced: April 27, 1992
The Crime before the Murder:
On February 20, 1990, just before 7 p.m. a man returned his home from work and saw his porch light was on. As he went inside, he saw his stereo equipment was taken apart and moved. He then suddenly confronted a man who looked at him and ran out of the house. That man would later be identified as Ernest Valencia Gonzales and his crimes for the night were just beginning.
Another neighbor, living in the area of 35th and Northern avenues, was taking out the trash with her dog when she saw Gonzales with what appeared to be a tire iron in his hands. She looked at the man, grabbed her dog and retreated into their home. She noticed the man walking toward the home of her neighbor Darrel Wagner.
A Husband Defends his Wife, a Wife Defends her Husband:
About ten minutes later the Wagner family returned home from dinner. As they came upon the courtyard to their townhouse, they saw the front door was opened. As Darrel went into investigate his wife and 7-year-old son waited by the gate.
As Darrel opened the door the rest of the way, he and his wife saw Gonzales on the stairway holding their video cassette recorder tucked under his arm.
The mother immediately told their son to go to a neighbor's for help. She then saw Gonzales push Darrel to the ground and begin stabbing Darrel in the chest.
Deborah begged Gonzales to stop, but when he refused, she jumped on his back, grabbing his arms to prevent him from stabbing her husband anymore.
Gonzales swung wildly, stabbing Deborah twice, hitting her kidney, spleen, and diaphragm. However, he also injured himself. He stole her purse then fled the area.
The two of them went inside and called 911, together
Darrel was stabbed seven times but still managed to help his wife to her feet as the two of them went inside and called 911, together.
Unfortunately, Darrel succumbed to his wounds while Deborah survived after several days in intensive care.
The Arrest and Trial:
Meanwhile, Gonzales went his girlfriend’s home to get his wounds cleaned. Witnesses her house would later testify that Gonzales told them about a bag he had with him that contained a woman's driver's license and a photo of a child with red hair. The same color hair as Deborah’s son.
Gonzales was arrested during a traffic stop a few days later. Police found out he had been released from prison just three months before the attacks after doing five years for theft and burglary. He also had nine juvenile arrests to go with nine adult arrests.
Interviews with others that know Gonzales suggested he was stealing, on a near daily basis, to support a drug habit and was smoking crack cocaine two days before the murder.
After a hung jury in the first trial, Gonzales was found guilty in the second trial and sentenced to death on April 27, 1992.
In addition to the death penalty, Gonzales was sentenced to three consecutive life terms.
On November 16, 1999, a Stay of Execution was issued by the Arizona Supreme Court in his scheduled execution.
He remains on Death Row in the Eyman Prison in Florence.