Two men accused of a kidnap-assault in Rio Rico in 2018 have accepted plea deals in the case, avoiding what would have been the county’s first two jury trials since the start of the pandemic.
Aaron Daniel Kane, 33, of Rio Rico, and Rudy Ray Rojo, 32, of Tucson, now face prison terms of seven to 21 years, followed by five years of probation, after they pleaded guilty to five and four felony offenses, respectively, during hearings at Santa Cruz County Superior Court.
Judge Thomas Fink vacated the trial of Kane that was set to begin Sept. 22, as well as the trial of Rojo, scheduled to start on Oct. 22, and set their sentencing hearings for Oct. 19.
Four of Kane’s guilty pleas were for offenses stemming from an incident on May 31 and/or June 1, 2018, and included kidnapping, aggravated assault, arson and aggravated robbery.
In establishing the factual basis for those pleas, defense lawyer Jeffrey Thorpe told the judge during a change-of-plea hearing last Friday that Kane, along with other accomplices, knowingly restrained a man by rolling him up in a blanket so he could be beaten, and also fired a handgun in the victim’s direction.
In addition, while the victim was restrained, Kane and the accomplices stole his 2007 Jeep Wrangler and set it on fire.
The victim participated in Kane’s change-of-plea hearing telephonically, and told the judge he had no objection to the plea deal.
When Fink asked Kane if he agreed with the factual basis that Thorpe had laid out, he said: “As far as me being there, yes. But me physically putting my hands on him, no.”
Thorpe explained that Kane was pleading guilty to the crimes under the concept of “accomplice liability,” meaning that he helped with the planning of the crimes or facilitated the conduct of others.
Deputy County Attorney Kimberly Hunley told the judge: “At sentencing, we will obviously have a different perspective with respect to his involvement in the case.”
The fifth offense that Kane pleaded guilty to on Friday was from another case in which he stole someone’s Yamaha Raptor ATV on May 4, 2018.
Rojo made two court appearances Friday, but did not agree to a plea deal until a follow-up hearing on Tuesday, when he pleaded guilty to kidnapping, aggravated assault, attempted car theft and aggravated robbery.
“Rudy and the accomplices planned to kidnap (the victim), They lured him out to a location in Rio Rico, Ariz. When he arrived, a gun was pulled by one of the accomplices,” defense lawyer George Damon told the judge, adding that Rojo knew the accomplice possessed a deadly weapon, and that it would be used to kidnap the victim.
“The victim was subdued and restrained in the back of his Jeep,” Damon said, and Rojo acknowledged that he was an accomplice to that act.
One of the accomplices fired a shot at the victim. “While my client didn’t fire the shot, he knew this person possessed a deadly weapon and was going to use it to that effect,” Damon said.
“At some point during this incident, Mr. Rojo actually took control of the (2007) Jeep Wrangler, backed it up, and at that time the victim was placed in the vehicle,” Damon said, adding that Rojo later drove off in the Jeep “to a certain destination.”
Hunley added that in addition to being robbed of his Jeep, the victim had other items taken from him as well, including his wallet.
According to testimony presented at a preliminary hearing in January 2019, the victim was eventually freed after his girlfriend gave the kidnappers her vehicle as ransom.
A third suspect in the kidnapping, 38-year-old Guadalupe Pillado, was killed in Mexico on June 17, 2018.