Teen boys indicted in Ariz. officer's death

Corrections officer fatally shot in carjacking plot near home

Related article:
Corrections oficer killed in carjacking

By Jonathan J. Cooper and Claudia Koerner
Arizona Republic

BUCKEYE, Ariz. — Bradley and Susan Gerrard were like many young families in Buckeye's Tartesso community.

The couple had a 2-year-old son with another on the way. Bradley, 28, had been an Arizona Department of Corrections officer for four years, and Susan, 26, was finishing her teaching degree from Arizona State University's West campus.

On Oct. 18, everything changed. On his way home from a quick night errand, Bradley Gerrard pulled over about a mile from his house to help a kid who appeared to need help. But Gerrard was the one who ended up in trouble.

In an apparent carjacking plot, Gerrard was shot to death.

On Thursday, Benjamin Cannon, 15, and Felix Vasquez, 16, both of Buckeye, were indicted on charges of first-degree murder, armed robbery, theft of a means of transportation and arson. They will be tried as adults under the Stop Juvenile Crime Initiative but are not eligible for the death penalty.

"This was, in my mind, a clear-cut case," Maricopa County Andrew Thomas said. "The facts suggest that it was a calculated act."

Bail for each youth was set at $2 million, and their preliminary hearing is Monday. The suspects' parents declined to comment.

Susan Gerrard's brother, Wade Roberts of Syracuse, Utah, said the family has been able to cope because of strong religious beliefs and help from family and friends. And the family, Roberts said, is ready to give the two accused killers a second chance.

"Susie is going to have a lifetime full of pain, but she's the first to forgive," he said. "She spoke at the funeral for a half hour, and her entire message was, 'Please don't be angry.' "

Roberts said he wants people to know Gerrard was a devoted family man eager to sacrifice for his wife and son.

Gerrard had been a Department of Corrections officer since 2004, assigned to the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis near Buckeye.

When Susan's health temporarily prevented her from driving to school, Gerrard would take her to campus after working a late shift. He would nap in the hall while she was in class.

"That's all he lived for, was his family," Roberts said.

Susan returned to student-teach near her home this week, he said.

Flowers left as a memorial have dried, but stuffed animals, crosses and encouraging words from the community continue to mark the intersection where Gerrard lost his life.

Details emerge

On the night of his death, Gerrard was on his way home from Wal-Mart, where he picked up an air mattress for a visiting relative, police said.

Court documents show Vasquez told police he sneaked out of his house around 11:30 p.m. Oct. 18 and met Cannon at a nearby park. The two teens wanted to steal a car to drive to a party in Goodyear.

Police said Vasquez told them they walked to a busier road, where one boy lay in the street while the other hid behind a pillar with a gun.

When Gerrard stopped to help the boy in the street, the other ran up and shot him in the head.

Police said both teens told the same story but implicated the other as the gunman. Police are trying to determine who pulled the trigger. They won't say who owned the 12-gauge shotgun or how the boys obtained it.

The two teens dumped a child car seat and stroller and headed to the party, according to Maricopa County Superior Court records. Later, they hid the gun in the desert and dumped Gerrard's keys in a park trash can.

Officers said they recovered all of the items where the boys said they dumped them.

A passer-by found Gerrard's body around midnight in the median, blocks from his home. A police officer later found Gerrard's partially burned car in the desert a few miles away.

Three days later, authorities arrested Cannon and Vasquez in connection with the murder.

The Cannons were new to Tartesso, a quiet secluded community with fewer than 1,000 families. But a neighbor described them as "a great family, outgoing, very friendly."

Another neighbor who knew Vasquez said he was a nice kid with a mother who kept a close eye on her three sons.

"He was a little scaredy-cat kid, afraid of everything," the neighbor said. "They're good people. I just feel sorry for him."

Buckeye community

Clean, well-kept parks dot Tartesso, nestled among undeveloped desert in the far-West Valley.

Most of the homes on Cannon's street display Halloween decorations or a for-sale sign. Jack-o'-lanterns smile from the ground outside the Cannons' front door, not far from Gerrard's home and the murder scene. Less than 2 miles away is Vasquez's street, a similar mix of foreclosed houses and decorated abodes.

Cannon attends Tonopah Valley High School and turns 16 on Christmas Eve.

Mark Joraanstad, superintendent of the Saddle Mountain Unified School District, said counseling is available to students who want to talk about one of their classmates being involved in a murder investigation, but the school did not notify parents about the arrest because it occurred off-site.

Cannon's lawyer, Scott Donald of the Phoenix law firm Billar & Donald, released a statement that said: "The Cannon family would like to express their sincerest sympathies to the family of Bradley Gerrard in this tragedy. It is impossible to imagine the devastation his loss has caused. At present we are unable to comment on any aspect of the case."

According to a neighbor, Vasquez was home-schooled after being expelled from Ruth Fisher Elementary School, also in the Saddle Mountain district.

Reached by phone, a Vasquez relative declined to comment.

Copyright 2008 Arizona Republic

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