Valenzuela found guilty of murder

After a eight-day trial, a jury tonight found Orlando Valenzuela guilty of killing 9-year-old Stacy Williams III last year.

The announcement of the jury's verdict came at about 7:40 p.m., a little more than 8 hours after the panel began deliberating. He was found guilty of second-degree murder.

Stacy was shot to death May 21, 2007, during a street brawl in the 3300 block of Fifth Street East. The jury found he was hit inadvertently by a bullet fired by Valenzuela, a reputed member of the SUR-13 criminal street gang.

Valenzuela, 16, faces between 25 years and life in prison when he is sentenced Sept. 12.

Valenzuela showed no emotion as Circuit Judge Debra Riva read the verdict.

When a reporter asked Valenzuela if he was upset by the jury's decision, he shook his head and said, "Hell no, man." He then walked by a nearby TV camera and made an obscene gesture.

The entire courtroom, policed by a dozen law enforcement officers, was silent as a bailiff fingerprinted Valenzuela.

Stacy's father, Stacy Williams Sr., sat among two dozen family and friends and showed no emotion. Stacy's mother, Barbara Siler, who attended every day of the trial, was not in the courtroom when Riva announced the verdict.

Neither was Valenzuela's family, who also attended the trial.

Next door to the courthouse, in front of a building at 1023 Manatee Ave., Valenzuela's mother Blanca Betancourt sat on the ground weeping. At least two dozen family and friends surrounded her - many of them were children, who also wept loudly.

Valenzuela's lead public defender, Franklin Roberts, bent down in front of her as she lay sobbing in the arms of a family member. His other public defender, Traci Dishman, put her arm on the shoulder of a woman who stood above Betancourt.

At least three dozen Bradenton police and Manatee deputies marked the courthouse perimeter. Most of them lined the sidewalks of Manatee Avenue wearing bullet proof vests. Snipers stood atop three downtown highrises.

Shortly after 8 p.m. the crowd began to disperse. One street over, a caravan of police vehicles, sirens blazing, drove away from the courthouse. In the middle of the line, Valenzuela sat inside an armored vehicle. A helicopter followed overhead.

Testimony showed the brawl that ended in Stacy's death started as a dispute over the affections of a teenage girl. But the boy's death and other violence last year sparked law enforcement and other groups into action to counter the effects of gangs.

Just this past Saturday, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and community groups sponsored the second annual Stacy Williams Day at a church near where he was killed.

Also, state and local enforcement have used state racketeering laws to target gangs as criminal enterprises. Numerous reputed gang members have taken plea deals to avoid long prison sentences, and the one gang member who took his case to trial was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison.