Judge rejects second twin’s plea offer in Taking Aim Guns & Ammo burglary

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: Judge Travis W. Ragland rejected a plea agreement for Damian Maldonado regarding the burglary of the Taking Aim Guns & Ammo store.

Prosecution to seek a new deal

“If I send him to prison for too long then he’s basically going to come back out worse than he went in and we’re going to get to deal with him just a few years farther down the road. If he doesn’t get sent long enough then he may not learn a lesson and then we’re just playing this game again sooner rather than later.” 

Graham County Superior Court Judge Pro Tem Travis W. Ragland 

By Jon Johnson


SAFFORD – Two-and-a-half years in prison with a possible presumptive 8.5 years, if he failed on probation, wasn’t enough punishment for the victim in the Taking Aim Guns & Ammo burglary, and the judge agreed with him. 

Damian Maldonado, 18, appeared in front of Graham County Superior Court Judge Pro Tem Travis W. Ragland on Tuesday prepared to face the music and start his prison sentence. However, the judge had second thoughts.

“At this time, the court believes the sentence to be a little on the light side and the court is going to reject the plea,” Judge Ragland said. He had previously deferred acceptance of the plea at Damian’s change of plea hearing. 

Tuesday was scheduled for a possible sentencing, and it started with Damian once again pleading guilty to burglary in the first degree – a Class-3 felony, trafficking in stolen property – a Class-2 felony, and misconduct involving weapons – a Class-4 felony. The plea dismissed charges of theft, criminal damage, and conspiracy and carries a stipulated sentence of 2.5 years in prison on the misconduct involving weapons count with a probation tail on the other two counts.

Contributed Photo/Courtesy GCSO: Damian Maldonado, 18, is facing a possible prison sentence for his reported actions regarding the Taking Aim Guns & Ammo burglary.

However, prior to sentencing, Taking Aim Guns & Ammo owner Steve Mayes spoke in front of the court and said he felt the sentence was too lenient. 

“With everything that has happened, and as far as I’m concerned the severity of stealing guns and then with the chase that went on afterward the next day, I don’t believe that two-and-a-half years is nearly enough,” Mayes said. “I believe it should be much longer.”

Graham County Chief Deputy County Attorney C. Allan Perkins argued that he believed the plea was correct for the state. 

“The bottom line is, your honor, two-and-a-half years is probably not a high enough punishment but it is a measured response to try to convince Mr. Maldonado that he is walking down the line of spending all or a good chunk of the rest of his life in prison . . . After this, the ball is in his court, Perkins argued. “He can decide whether he wants to be a responsible law-abiding citizen or if he wants to keep coming back into court.” 

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Taking Aim Guns & Ammo owner Steve Mayes said he believes the suspects should go to prison for burglarizing his business.

Damian, along with his twin brother, Dominic, broke into the Taking Aim Guns & Ammo store in Safford at 1122 W. Thatcher Blvd. during the early morning hours of Feb. 20. They broke the store’s front door and a display cabinet en route to stealing three 9-MM handguns ($300 each), and an Angstadt Arms model AA-0940 9-MM pistol valued at $1,439.

The suspects sold one firearm to an acquaintance, Anthony Smith, and he was arrested during a short foot chase. A search warrant then turned up the rest of the stolen firearms and the masks the suspects were wearing during the burglary at the Maldonados’ residence.  

Dominic, plead guilty to theft and burglary in the first degree. The plea dismissed an additional burglary charge and a charge of criminal damage and had a stipulated sentence of supervised probation for the theft count with all terms left to the court’s discretion. Dominic was sentenced on March 28 to three years on supervised probation and 180 days in jail with credit for 35 days served. 

Contributed Photo/Courtesy GCSO: Dominic Maldonado pleaded guilty to theft and burglary in the first degree and was sentenced to probation.

Sentencing for the burglary count was deferred. That means Dominic will have the opportunity to have that charge dropped if he is successful on probation.  

However, should Dominic be unsuccessful, a judge could sentence him on the burglary count for between a mitigated minimum of 2 years to a maximum of 7 years in prison. Dominic has a review hearing on his deferred sentencing scheduled for Dec. 12.

While both twins have reported significant juvenile records, both the prosecution and judge advised that could not be used to aggravate the sentencing. However, Damian is currently on probation in Gila County, which aggravates his sentence over his brother’s. Additionally, a conviction could affect his probation status in Gila County, which could revoke it and send him to prison as well. 

That attribute was mentioned by both the prosecution – Graham County Chief Deputy County Attorney C. Allan Perkins, and Damian’s defense attorney, Dennis McCarthy.  

In arguing for the judge to accept the plea, Perkins said while he understands Mayes’ feelings he believed the plea deal was a good one for the state and was done after negotiating back and forth with Mr. McCarthy. He said his original offer was slightly longer but had only one probation tail. The new offer, while six months shorter, has two probation tails that could result in a much longer prison sentence if Damian fails on probation.

“We attempted to devise a plea agreement that would both give a substantial punishment up front and then give a probation tail afterward to determine if Mr. Maldonado has learned the lessons necessary,” Perkins said. “And if he has not – if he will not abide by terms of probation, he would face a Class-2 and a Class-3 – possibly consecutive – sentences that will see him in for a much longer time.”   

Perkins also added that while he enjoys going to trial himself, if the state didn’t offer plea deals he would be in trial six days a week and they would have to hire triple the amount of current prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges to handle the load – passing the cost onto the taxpayer. 

“Plea bargaining is an endemic part of the criminal justice system primarily because crime is so rampant in our society today,” Perkins said. “Week in, week out, I will receive an average of three new cases to resolve. It is not possible to go to trial on three new cases a week.”

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: Judge Travis Ragland, shown here in this 2018 file photo, advised further negotiation in the Damian Maldonado case.

In further defense of his plea, Perkins said the crime Damian committed was a property crime and that he didn’t use a gun in the commission of the crime of stealing guns which under the law was technically a non-dangerous crime. 

McCarthy agreed with Perkins’ take on the case and said a great deal of work and effort went into making this customized plea deal. 

“He is no longer swimming in the kiddie pool,” McCarthy said. “He’s going to be in a main yard in the Department of Corrections. He’s going to be punished. When he gets out of prison after being punished there, he is going to be walking a tight line. He’s going to be on probation from two charges theoretically which could run consecutively should he violate his probation. So, there is some punishment up front and then there’s this sword of Damocles over his head . . .”

Damian spoke on his own behalf and said he was remorseful for his actions and that while he did commit a new crime while on probation he was otherwise compliant. 

“I failed at it because I caught a case but while I was on probation I was calling in every day from 4 to 12 in the morning. I was showing up when I was supposed to.”

In the end, Judge Ragland rejected the plea and advised the state and defense to continue negotiations. Perkins said he would make adjustments to the plea and see if they would be acceptable to the defendant or if they would have to set it for trial.  Judge Ragland then set a sentencing hearing for June 20 at 8:30 a.m.