On the third day in the trial of a man accused of kidnapping a woman and burning her to death, jurors learned of the physical evidence investigators gathered in the days following the homicide and heard from a jailhouse informant who said the defendant bragged about his role in the slaying.
Luis Alberto Valencia, 27, is on trial for the death of Rosa Avina, 27, in October 2007. Valencia is charged with first-degree murder with special circumstances. He is being tried separately from three other men. Alvaro Reyes, Omar Cebrero, and Urbano Ortega have all been accused of Avina’s murder and are awaiting trial. A fifth suspect, Luis Vazquez took a plea deal and was sentenced to nine years and four months for kidnapping and burglary. As part of his plea deal, Vazquez has agreed to testify for the prosecution.
The Merced County District Attorney’s Office alleges Valencia and the other men staged a phony home invasion at a home in the 200 block of Clifford Avenue in Turlock, where they kidnapped Avina at gunpoint. Previous testimony on Wednesday stated Avina’s hands and feet were bound by zip ties, she was blindfolded and put into the truck of a Pontiac Grand Am.
Vazquez testified earlier that after grabbing Avina, they drove to a home in the 8000 block of Sycamore Street in Delhi, where Vazquez stayed behind with Reyes.
Vazquez testified that when Valencia returned to the Delhi home he told Vazquez how he had poured gasoline on Avina and then set her on fire inside a boat hull left at a Ballico orchard and left her to die. Avina survived the brutal attack long enough to walk nearly a mile to a house where she was found by a group of workers. She was taken by ambulance and then medi-flighted to a burn unit at a Bay Area hospital. She suffered second and third degree burns over a majority of her body and died days later from her injuries.
Vazquez previously testified that Valencia was angry with Avina over a drug debt of $750 after she took a pound of marijuana from an associate.
On Friday, jurors learned how investigators found the same type of zip ties, tape, and plastic bags found on Avina’s body at the suspect’s residences.
They also heard evidence about a ring that belonged to Avina and was found in the possession of Valencia’s wife. Merced County Sheriff’s detective Alex Barba testified about a recorded jailhouse conversation between Valencia and his wife in which Valencia instructs her to recover a ring he buried in the dirt with his feet at the Delhi residence just before his arrest. Barba spoke with the wife days later and she turned over the ring.
The most compelling testimony Friday came from a man who was housed in the same wing with Valencia for a brief time at the Stanislaus County Public Safety Center. The informant said he witnessed Valencia passing around a newspaper article that detailed the attack and was bragging about how he had “poured gasoline on the white girl.”
“They laughed about it like it was all fun and games,” the informant said. “They had no remorse.”
The trial is scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Merced County Superior Courthouse.
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