The Merced County District Attorney’s Office has earned a second conviction in the 2007 case of a Livingston woman burned to death over a drug debt.
After a trial that lasted just over one week, a jury returned with a guilty verdict on Monday for 32-year-old Alvaro Montanez Reyes for his role in the death of 27-year-old Rosa Avina. Reyes was found guilty of first degree murder with a special circumstance of kidnapping and a felony charge of kidnapping, according to the district attorney’s office.
Reyes is the second defendant to be tried for Avina’s murder and the second conviction. In 2010, Luis Alberto Valencia, 27, was convicted of the same charges and given a life sentence. Two other defendants, Omar Cebrero, 21, and Urbano Ortega, 27, are awaiting trial. Another man, Luis Vasquez, took a deal and pled guilty to kidnapping and has testified at the trials.
Even though Reyes was not present at the Ballico orchard where Avina was set on fire, the prosecution claimed he played an integral role in the plot to kidnap Avina and eventually kill her. The prosecution pointed to Reyes’ inconsistent statements to investigators as proof of his knowledge about the plan.
On the night of Oct. 23, 2007, Reyes arranged to go with Avina to a home on Clifford Avenue in Turlock. Unbeknownst to Avina, Reyes had conspired with the other men to stage a phony home invasion robbery at the Turlock residence so they could get Avina, according to the prosecution.
The men were angry with Avina because she allegedly stole a pound of marijuana from one of them.
At the Clifford Avenue home, Avina was bound and gagged and thrown into the trunk of a car. Eventually, she was driven to a remote Ballico orchard where she was doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire.
After the suspects left the area, Avina managed to walk about a mile to a ranch house where she was found by a group of farm workers.
Avina died the next day at a Bay Area hospital from extensive burn injuries.
While in the ambulance that was taking her to a waiting medical transport helicopter, Avina was able to tell detectives some of the details about her ordeal, including the names of those that hurt her. Those haunting words have been replayed during the trials.
Avina told the investigators Reyes was not one of the men responsible, but the prosecution said this was because she was still unaware of his role in the ploy.
For his defense, Reyes claimed he didn’t know anything about a plan to kidnap Avina and was a victim as well. He claimed he didn’t know the home invasion was just a ploy to get Avina and that when the men had guns pointed at him, he believed it was all real. He also said he was beaten by the men.
Reyes is scheduled for a sentencing hearing on May 12.
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141.