The trial for the second of four men accused of kidnapping a woman from a Turlock home and burning her to death over a drug debt, got under way this week in Merced County.
Alvaro Montanez Reyes is going on trial for first-degree murder with the special circumstance of kidnapping, as well as a separate charge of felony kidnapping.
The charges stem from the brutal slaying of Rosa Avina, a 27-year-old Livingston woman, in October 2007.
Reyes and the other defendants are accused of staging a home invasion robbery at a home on Clifford Avenue in Turlock. The charges state the men bound and gagged Avina and threw her into a trunk of a car and then drove her out to an orchard in Ballico, where they doused her with gasoline and set her on fire and left her to die.
The Merced County Sheriff’s Department, which investigated the crime, said the men were angry with Avina because they believed she stole a pound of marijuana from one of them.
Avina was able to summon the strength to walk nearly a mile to a farmhouse where she collapsed and was later discovered by a group of ranch hands. She was taken to a burn unit in the Bay Area, where she died a day later with second and third degree burns covering most of her body.
Prior to her death, Avina was able to tell detectives the names of the men who kidnapped her, but she also told them Reyes wasn’t one of the ones responsible.
Reyes and Avina were together the night of the kidnapping and he was the one who drove her to the Clifford Avenue residence. Reyes claims he was unaware of the murder plot and that he too was beaten and held at gunpoint when the suspects burst into the Turlock home.
The Merced County District Attorney’s Office is attempting to make the case that Reyes knew of the murder plot and helped by taking Avina to the Turlock home where the home invasion was planned. The prosecution says Reyes was just pretending to be a victim and is just as responsible for Avina’s death as the other suspects, even though he was not present at the Ballico orchard when she was set on fire.
Deputy District Attorney Steve Slocum, who is prosecuting the case and defense attorney Tom Pfeiff, gave their opening statements Thursday. Just like in the trial of Luis Valencia, the prosecution opened their case with gruesome photographs depicting the pain Avina went through prior to her death.
Valencia was previously found guilty by a Merced County jury of first-degree murder and kidnapping and was given a life sentence.
A man originally arrested with the others for the crime, Luis Vasquez, has pled guilty to participating in the kidnapping plot and has testified against the others in a preliminary hearing and at Valencia’s trial.
Two other defendants, Omar Cebrero and Urbano Ortega, are awaiting trial.
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.