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Local men found guilty of burning woman to death

POSTED September 13, 2011 9:49 p.m.

The final two defendants standing accused of kidnapping and burning a woman to death over a drug debt were found guilty by a Merced County jury last week.

Urbana Ortega, 27, of Livingston was convicted of first-degree murder with the special circumstances of torture and kidnapping for the death of Rosa Avina in 2007.

A guilty verdict was also returned for Omar Cebrero, 21, of Turlock, who was convicted of first-degree murder with the special circumstance of kidnapping.

The two defendants were tried together in Merced County Superior Court but two separate juries heard the cases. The first jury returned its guilty verdict Thursday for Ortega and the second jury came back with a verdict on Friday for Cebrero.

The case arose from events that transpired the night of Oct. 24, 2007 that led to the death of the 27-year-old Livingston woman.

Avina was kidnapped from a Turlock home during a phony home invasion. She was bound, gagged, blindfolded and placed into the trunk of a Pontiac Grand Am. She was driven to a Delhi home, where five men discussed how they could “rough up” Avina because she allegedly took a pound of marijuana from one of the men.

Still in the trunk of the car, Avina was driven to an orchard in Ballico, where she was thrown into the hull of an abandoned boat. She was doused with gasoline and then set on fire when one of the suspects flicked a lit match at her.

Avina was burned over the majority of her body, but was able to walk to a farmhouse nearly a mile away in an effort to get help. She was air lifted to a burn unit in the Bay Area and died from her injuries two days later.

The Merced County Sheriff’s Department arrested five individuals for Avina’s murder. One suspect, Luis Vasquez, pled guilty to participating in the kidnapping plot and has testified against the others during their trials.

In earlier trials, Luis Valencia of Delhi and Alvaro Montanez Reyes were also convicted for their roles in Avina’s death.

Valencia was found guilty of first-degree murder with the special circumstances of kidnapping, mayhem, and torture. He was also convicted of felony kidnapping with the enhancement of using a firearm. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Reyes was found guilty of first-degree murder with a special circumstance of kidnapping and a felony charge of kidnapping. He is awaiting sentencing.

Both Cebrero and Urbano are facing life sentences. Ortega is scheduled for sentencing Oct. 13 and Cebrero’s is set for Oct. 27.

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.

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