Killer in Merced County murder sentenced to life in prison

MERCED COUNTY, Calif.

Luis Valencia burned a woman to death in 2007. But the trials of three other men accused in the murder have not yet started.

Luis Valencia has already spent more than one thousand days in jail since being arrested on murder charges. And Thursday a judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole -- the maximum sentence sought by prosecutors.

Merced Co. Dep. District Attorney Steven Slocum said, "He's an incredibly dangerous person. So I think the public is much safer with this individual off the street."

In October of 2007 Valencia kidnapped Rosa Avina at gunpoint because of a drug dispute. He then tied her up, drove her to a Ballico field, and doused her with gasoline before detectives say another man threw a match at her. Avina died days later from severe burns. Last month a jury convicted Valencia of first degree murder with special circumstances for kidnapping, torture, and mayhem.

During Thursday's hearing a victim's advocate read an emotional letter from Maria Avina in which she described the pain Valencia caused not only her sister, but her entire family. "May you remember and suffer for what you have done to a beautiful soul who is now in a better place where no person like your kind can ever hurt her again."

After the hearing, Deputy District Attorney Steven Slocum told Action News Valencia was previously sentenced to just over five years in prison for a violent crime in Stanislaus County that could not be revealed in court. "Ten days before he kidnapped and murdered Rosa Avina he used a rifle and tied up and brutally assaulted a 16-year-old girl at the same house where this kidnapping occurred."

Slocum also credited Avina's sister with enduring difficult testimony throughout Valencia's trial. But she and her family still face three more trials for the other men accused in the kidnapping and murder. And Valencia's defense attorney says he plans to appeal his conviction.

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