Marengo pleads guilty to murder in the first degree

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: William Lance Marengo has pleaded guilty to two counts of murder in the first degree. This picture was taken at a previous hearing.

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – William Lance Marengo, 29, appeared in front of Graham County Superior Court Judge Michael D. Peterson on Tuesday and pleaded guilty to two counts of murder in the first degree in the killings of Sabrena Marie Martin, 22, of Safford, and Ruben Nicholas Morales, 36, of Salt Lake City.

Nick Morales and Sabrena Martin

Marengo accepted a stipulated life sentence term for each victim. Judge Peterson will decide whether to make each life sentence be served concurrently (at the same time) or consecutively (one after the other) during sentencing, beginning at 3 p.m. on July 13. Concurrent versus consecutive sentences could make a difference because under Arizona law Marengo can petition the governor to give him a set amount of years on his life sentence after serving 25 years. However, if the counts are consecutive, he will have to wait until after 50 years before being allowed to petition.

Marengo reportedly committed the murders over a half-ounce of heroin and $100 in cash he took from the victims.

Martin and Morales both went missing in January 2019. Their bodies were found Aug. 24, 2019, when they were exhumed from a shallow grave in Thunderbird Mobile Estates. An autopsy from the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner later conclusively reported the cause of death for both victims to be via gunshot. (See: Man charged with two counts of first-degree murder in Thunderbird double homicide of Sabrena Martin and Ruben Morales – Gila Herald Nov. 27, 2019.)   

On Tuesday, Marengo appeared with his defense attorney, Dennis McCarthy, and entered a plea of two counts of first-degree murder. Additional charges of two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, armed robbery, kidnapping, carrying a weapon in the commission of a felony crime, disorderly conduct with a deadly weapon, abandonment/concealment of a dead body, tampering/destroying evidence, and transportation of a narcotic drug for sale were dismissed. Graham County Chief Deputy County Attorney L. Scott Bennett is prosecuting the case.

Prosecutors said Marengo shot and killed Martin and Morales in a residence they were living in with him in Thunderbird Mobile Estates at 7080 S. U.S. Highway 191 and then eventually buried the deceased couple in a makeshift cellar at the rear of the property. He was also accused of discarding the evidence of the crime near the Gila River and trying to destroy it by burning. He also allegedly told investigators that he sold the murder weapon – a .22 caliber revolver – to a person in Tucson for $80. 

Marengo’s former girlfriend, Keyonna Wilson, 26, who became a witness for the prosecution in the murders, previously pleaded guilty to abandonment or concealment of a dead body – a Class-5 Felony, and tampering with physical evidence – a Class-6 Felony. She will have to serve a mandatory prison term on the second charge with sentencing up to Judge Peterson and a term of probation for her first charge. Wilson will be sentence July 13 as well, starting at 1:30 p.m.

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