A gang fight left a little boy dead. The killer was granted a re-sentencing hearing.
It was nearly dusk on May 21, 2007, when 9-year-old Stacy Williams III was knocked off his new purple Huffy bicycle when a stray bullet hit him as he rode away from a street fight as gunfire erupted.
More than a dozen teenagers and younger children had gathered in the 3500 block of Fifth Street East in Bradenton to watch two teenage boys fight over a 13-year-old girl. The two had already gotten into a fight earlier in the nearby Manatee Woods apartment complex but agreed to a rematch.
One of the boys, the girl’s boyfriend, was affiliated with the SUR-13 street gang and called for a gun to be brought to the scene of the brawl. His sister, Ashley Rios, arrived in her car driven by her boyfriend, Johnny “Creep” Vazquez, with Orlando “Scrappy Loco” Valenzuela Jr. in the backseat, all three members of SUR-13.
The white Chrysler Sebring convertible with its top down pulled up as a dark green Cadillac approached from the other direction. Valenzuela stood up in the backseat and began firing a gun.
Children scattered, many taking off through a dirt path through the vacant lot south of the adjacent Bethesda International Evangelical Church known as “the cut.”
Stacy had made it to the corner of Fifth Street East and 32nd Avenue East before the stray bullet hit him, knocking him off his bicycle. The bullet hit him in the neck and went out his mouth, but the boy tried to get up and fell again.
Within hours, Valenzuela, Vazquez and Rios were arrested by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office on murder charges.
The bullet and gun that killed Stacy were never found.
Valenzuela was identified as the only shooter. Vazquez and Rios took plea deals in the case and testified against Valenzuela during an eight-day trial in September 2008.
Valenzuela was found guilty by a jury of second-degree murder with a firearm. He was later sentenced to life in prison.
Now 27, Valenzuela has been back at the Manatee County jail for a month ahead of a sentencing hearing on Thursday.
In December 2016, Valenzuela was granted a re-sentencing hearing based on the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama and the 2016 Florida Supreme Court decision in Landrum v. State.
In the Miller case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences were unconstitutional for juveniles. In the Landrum case, the state Supreme Court ruled that cases in which discretion was used qualified for a new sentencing hearing.
At the time he shot and killed Stacy, Valenzuela already was a documented gang member at the age of 15. Manatee County was plagued with gang violence at the time with drive-by shootings often occurring multiple times a night.
Six weeks before, a shooting sent thousands running from Coquina Beach on Easter Sunday in a clash between rival gangs despite a mass presence of law enforcement in anticipation of possible retaliation for a previous fatal shooting.
Retaliation was also a fear as witnesses took the stand during Valenzuela’s trial.
Valenzuela’s sister was arrested during the trial and charged with witness intimidation after a witness refused to testify out of fear of retribution because of her alleged threats.
Days later, Valenzuela’s brother was arrested and charged with witness tampering and breaching the peace for threatening the same witness. Formal charges were never filed against either sibling and the cases were dropped.
At least one other person associated with Valenzuela was arrested during the trial for similar charges.
Security was heightened throughout the trial as families from both sides filled the courtroom. Even children were checked with metal-detecting wands before entering the courtroom.
When the verdict was read, the perimeter of the Manatee Judicial Center was surrounded with Bradenton police officers and Manatee sheriff’s deputies wearing tactical gear. Snipers were positioned from the top of three downtown Bradenton buildings.
When Valenzuela was sentenced in September 2008, the hearing was held in the courtroom located at the Manatee County jail because of the security concerns.
During that hearing, Valenzuela faced Stacy’s mother when he had the opportunity to speak, according to Bradenton Herald archives.
“I’m really sorry for what happened to your son,” Valenzuela said as Stacy’s mother broke into tears. “I wish I had the power to get your son back. We’re all going through pain now and I’m sorry.”
On Thursday, Valenzuela will again be sentenced by Circuit Judge Debra Riva in that same courtroom. Valenzuela’s public defender argued to have the hearing at the courthouse, but the request was denied by Riva.
In her order, Riva cited the request from the sheriff’s office to hold the hearing at the jail.
“Increased security will be necessary given the high-profile nature and particular dynamics of this case. Should the re-sentencing occur at the judicial center downtown, we anticipate efforts from multiple bureaus outside of court security would be necessary. For everyone’s safety (and for efficient use of all resources) the Sheriff feels the jail to be the best location for this particular hearing,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
Valenzuela’s sentencing is a public hearing, however, so anyone can attend but will have to go through the necessary security checkpoints at the Manatee County jail.
Unlike his prior sentencing, Valenzuela will not be wearing jail garb, as Riva granted a request from the defense to allow him to dress up for the hearing.
Prior to killing Stacy, Valenzuela’s criminal history including at least two firearm-related arrests, including having a gun on school property. He also had multiple battery convictions.