A woman who was arrested for murder at age 14 was to be set free from prison today under terms of a new plea agreement approved this morning in a Tucson courtroom.
Gina Gail Celaya, now 34, was convicted of killing 50-year-old Trinidad Lopez in the desert near South Alvernon Way and East Los Reales Road on Dec. 22, 1992.
Lopez picked up Celaya on South Sixth Avenue and took her to the desert near the Los Reales Landfill. Celaya claimed she shot Lopez in the back in self defense after he tried to sexually assault her.
After shooting Lopez, Celaya left him to die and took off with his Nissan truck and $19.
She then picked up three friends and the girls went joyriding in Lopez' truck until they crashed it into a wall and ran away.
Lopez' body was found on Christmas Eve by a homeless man looking for firewood in the desert.
Celaya was convicted of murder and armed robbery in 1994 and sentenced to a minimum of 35 years in prison.
At the time, Celaya was the youngest person in Tucson to be tried for first-degree murder.
In 2003, Pima County Superior Court Judge Lina Rodriguez ordered that Celaya could be eligible for parole after serving 25 years in prison.
The change in sentence was issued after an appeal was filed by defense attorneys Walter Nash and William J. Kirchner who were hired by the Tohono O'odham Nation to represent Celaya, who is a tribal member. Last week an Appeals Court granted Celaya a new trial, but prosecutors instead offered a plea agreement. Celaya pleaded guilty today to second-degree murder and was sentenced to time served.
Lopez' murder was one of several violent crimes involving juvenile suspects that same year.
In the first 11 months of 1992, 18 juveniles were referred to Pima County Juvenile Court for homicide or attempted homicide.
Two other teen girls were tried as adults and convicted of murder around the same time Celaya was convicted.
Veronica Torres was 14 years old when she shot and killed an 18-year-old single mother in a drive-by shooting in 1994. The driver of the car, Cherity Cox, was 17 at the time of the murder.
Torres and Cox were both sentenced to 25 years to life in prison in 1995 for the gang-related shooting.
Read more in tomorrow's Arizona Daily Star