A family finds closure after arrest made in mom's 1996 murder

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They were only 12 and 7 when their mom, Sarah Maxton, 30, was found near a west valley roadway, murdered execution-style. That was 1996.  Now, years later, Maxton’s daughter and middle son were at Phoenix Police Headquarters facing the media cameras on a bitter-sweet occasion after learning their mother’s killer had been arrested. Phoenix Cold Case Homicide Detective Clark Schwartzkopf joined the two as journalists posed questions.

Sarah Maxton - Children and Investigator

Daughter Reanna’s voice broke as she responded to a question regarding her feelings knowing justice had been served, “It opens a lot of old wounds…I can go to sleep at night now, knowing that he’s in jail.” Joshua, now 23, sat motionless next to his big sister, his eyes cast downward. Reanna talked excitedly about the mom they loved and displayed treasured photos.

Sarah Maxton’s body was discovered on January 19, 1996 just after 9 p.m. near 10300 West Lower Buckeye Road. Detectives immediately began working the case, but it soon went cold. 

Sarah Maxton - Victim

Years later, using new federal grant monies, Phoenix Police formed a Cold Case Homicide Unit and opened this case among others, and began to work leads. A key piece of evidence from the scene was analyzed by the Phoenix Police Crime Lab and that eventually led to a suspect, Ronald Cortez.

On December 10, 2012, an indictment was obtained for one count of first degree murder and on December 11, 2012, suspect Ronald Cortez, 49, was arrested by Chino Valley Police with assistance from the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office. He was booked into the Yavapai County Jail.

“I hope he thinks about how he took a mom away from three kids,” said Reanna, “I hope he turns to God.”