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Killer in 2007 Avina murder sentenced to life in prison

SUN-STAR PHOTO BY MARCI STENBERG
Sheriff's Deputy Orosco looks on, as Luis Valencia walks into Courtroom 5 before he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole thursday, October 21, 2010 in Merced Superior Court. Valencia was convicted this year of participating in the kidnapping of Rosa Avina and burning her alive--one of the most brutal crimes ever reported in Merced County.
SUN-STAR PHOTO BY MARCI STENBERG Sheriff's Deputy Orosco looks on, as Luis Valencia walks into Courtroom 5 before he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole thursday, October 21, 2010 in Merced Superior Court. Valencia was convicted this year of participating in the kidnapping of Rosa Avina and burning her alive--one of the most brutal crimes ever reported in Merced County. Merced Sun-Star

Luis Valencia kidnapped a woman and burned her alive three years ago this week -- all for a pound of stolen pot.

Now he'll ultimately grow old and die in state prison for his vicious crime.

Judge John Kirihara sentenced the 27-year-old illegal immigrant Thursday to life without parole for murdering 27-year-old Rosa Avina. Merced County sheriff's detectives investigating the case said it was one of the most brutal crimes they'd ever seen.

A jury found Valencia guilty last month of first-degree murder with special circumstances for torture, kidnapping and mayhem. He was also found guilty of felony kidnapping with an enhancement for using a firearm.

Wearing a deadpan expression and orange jumpsuit, Valencia sat quietly during Thursday's hearing, which he listened to through a Spanish interpreter. He gazed ahead and made no eye contact as Avina's sister, Maria Avina, stood in court.

A victims' advocate read a statement from Avina in court. Avina told Valencia he has no remorse for his awful crime or respect for human life. "And when the day comes when you meet your maker, may he forgive you for all the harm, suffering and pain that you caused my sister, who was a beautiful human being with a good soul and kind-hearted," Avina said.

Deputy District Attorney Steven Slocum, the prosecutor in the case, said he was pleased with the outcome of the case. Slocum revealed Valencia had tied up and assaulted a 16-year-old girl at the same Turlock house -- only 10 days before Avina was kidnapped. The woman was eventually released by Valencia and his helpers. Valencia was sentenced by a Stanislaus County judge to five years, four months. "He's an incredibly dangerous person," Slocum said.

David Capron, Valencia's attorney, couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.

Valencia was one of four men accused of kidnapping Rosa Avina at gunpoint from a Turlock neighborhood the night of Oct. 23, 2007. She was bound with zip ties on her hands and feet, with heavy tape across her face, and her kidnappers put her in the trunk of a car.

They drove to a rural area in Ballico and placed Avina in an abandoned boat. Valencia doused her with gasoline from a plastic Coke bottle, and one of his partners set her on fire.

She died in a Santa Clara County hospital from her extensive burns.

The other suspects, Alvaro Montanez Reyes, Omar Cebrero and Urbano Ortega, are being tried separately. The motive behind the kidnapping was that Avina allegedly stole a pound of pot from the defendants.

Reyes' trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 18. Trials dates haven't been set for Cebrero and Ortega. All the suspects remain in custody at the Merced County Jail.

Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsun-star.com.

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