By Jon Johnson
“You can be a great prosecutor and never win this award.” – Graham County Attorney Kenny Angle
PHOENIX – Graham County Chief Deputy County Attorney L. Scott Bennett has been named the small jurisdiction Arizona Felony Prosecutor of the Year.
Bennett was given the award for the recognition during an annual conference sponsored by the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council (APAAC) last week. The recognition covers 13 of Arizona’s 15 counties, while Maricopa and Pima counties join with the Attorney General’s Office to have their own prosecutor of the year, which went to Scott Blake of the Attorney General’s Office. The awards are voted by all of the county attorneys, the attorney general and several of the larger municipalities’ head prosecutors, which make up the APAAC.
Since its inception in 1988, this is only the second time a prosecutor from Graham County has won the award. Former Graham County Chief Deputy County Attorney Alan Perkins won the award in 2001.
“It’s a great honor,” Bennett said. “I was really surprised. It’s a neat thing . . . It really means a lot to me that elected prosecutors who have spent their lives prosecuting thought that what I’ve done merited the award . . . For me, it was a great, great honor.”
Graham County Attorney Kenny Angle nominated Bennett for the award for his work on four serious cases as well as all his behind-the-scenes effort. The cases examined include ones against Jeffrey Nothacker, who pleaded no contest to a variety of charges relating to the brutalization of his then girlfriend and her 12-year-old daughter and received a 50-year sentence; Paul Ray Simon Garcia, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 35 years relating to the molestation and drugging of his daughter (Garcia later died in prison less than a month into his prison stay); Mariceo Inez Rea, who pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree, attempted burglary and trafficking in stolen property and was given a 30-year sentence; and Mick Drage, a physician’s assistant who was accused by authorities as providing opiate pills en mass and had his ability to prescribe such drugs taken away while on his 9-year probation sentence.
“Scott did an awesome job this year,” Angle said. “He’s an awesome prosecutor and is an even better person, so we thought he deserved the award.”
Angle pointed out that Bennett went above and beyond in many cases, including with Rea, in which he helped break the case open by assisting in the ultimate recovery of the murder weapon and locating an additional eye witness who wasn’t previously known to police.
Angle said in addition to handling the most difficult prosecutions, Bennett also handles a large case load, leads by example in the office and is a great team player.
“It’s a pretty big accomplishment,” Angle said. “It’s pretty tough to win this award. You have to do some exceptional things to win an award like this . . . It speaks volumes of what Scott does for our office.”
Bennett was previously nominated for the award while working for the Pinal County Attorney’s Office in 2008.
“You can be a great prosecutor and never win this award,” Angle said. “He’s been nominated before, but they felt he did some exceptional things and deserved to win this time.”
Angle said that for a small jurisdiction, Graham County has some big, serious cases and that Bennett has served the community well by taking dangerous people off the streets, including four defendants who were sentenced to 155 combined years in prison. However, Angle said it’s not just about sending people to prison.
“It’s not necessarily about the numbers, it’s about making the streets safer,” Angle said. “The Mick Drage case wasn’t about prison time, but in that plea agreement, Mick Drage was prohibited from prescribing any controlled substance for nine years. You look at the problems we had (with opiate abuse) before and after and Scott has done some great things for the community. Not a lot of other places have been able to conduct a successful prosecution like Scott did in the Mick Drage case.”
“We need a good prosecutor here to take care of the big cases we have and Scott does that for us,” Angle said. “He’s been exceptional at what he does. We’re very lucky to have him.”
Bennett has put down roots in the Gila Valley and said he envisions staying put for the long haul.
“I love Graham County,” Bennett said. “This is where I want to spend my career. This is where I want to raise my kids. I love the community. I love the office, and I don’t want to go anywhere else. This is home.”