A Merced County jury returned a guilty verdict on all counts for Luis Valencia for his role in the 2007 burning death of Rosa Avina.
Valencia, 27, of Delhi 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 faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The agony of waiting three years for justice spilled out for Avina’s older sister, who shook as the verdict was read and broke down into sobs.
Valencia showed no outward reaction to the verdict.
Valencia’s conviction stems from events that transpired on the night of Oct. 24, 2007, when Avina was kidnapped from a Turlock home during a staged home invasion robbery.
She was bound, gagged, blindfolded and placed into the trunk of a Pontiac Grand Am, and 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.
Avina was driven to an orchard in Ballico, where she was thrown into the hull of an abandoned boat, doused with gasoline and set on fire.
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.
Within weeks of her death, investigators had taken several suspects into custody. At the time of the arrests, Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin referred to the suspects as “ruthless cutthroats.”
In a previous interview regarding the case, Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II said everyone involved in the investigation and the prosecution “has been shocked by the level of callousness and heartlessness.”
The district attorney’s office made the decision not to pursue the death penalty in part because the defendant had no criminal history.
The remaining defendants, Omar Cebrero, Urbano Ortega, and Alvaro Reyes are being tried separately and are awaiting trial. A fifth defendant, Luis Vazquez, previously pled guilty to kidnapping and burglary and was sentenced to nine years and four months. As part of his plea deal, Vazquez has to testify for the prosecution.
A sentencing hearing and post-trial motions has been set for 10 a.m. Oct. 19.
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.