Valenzuela sentenced to 40 years for death of Stacy Williams
Orlando “Scrappy Loco” Valenzuela Jr., the street gang member who shot and killed 9-year-old Stacy Williams III almost 12 years ago, on Thursday was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Valenzuela, who was 15 years old when he stood up in the backseat of a white Chrysler Sebring convertible and fired the shot that killed Stacy, had originally been sentenced to life in prison after his trial in 2008. But he won a new sentencing hearing after the U.S. Supreme Court banned the sentencing of juveniles to life prison terms.
Circuit Judge Debra Riva, who also presided over Valenzuela’s trial, ordered Valenzuela to serve 10 years of probation after he completes his prison term.
Valenzuela’s attorney, Jennifer Joynt-Sanchez, requested the judge consider a 25-year sentence for the now 27-year-old Valenzuela. Pointing to the testimony of expert witnesses, Joynt-Sanchez argued Valenzuela was young and immature at the time of the shooting.
Riva said, based on what she heard in court, she felt Valenzuela was emotionally and mentally immature when he was 15. She also acknowledged testimony that Valenzuela “wanted to be known” as possible insight to his motivation for the shooting.
Reading a letter addressed to the Williams family, Valenzuela said he was “young, selfish and inconsiderate,” at the time.
“I’m not going to use age as an an excuse. I’m here to accept responsibility and face the anguish I caused (the Williams family),” Valenzuela said.
“I made a grievous and stupid mistake. Not a day passes that I don’t think about what I’ve done.”
Art Brown, with the State Attorney’s Office, said prosecutors wanted Valenzuela to be sentenced to life.
Stacy’s family also asked the judge to sentence him to life in prison.
“Let his family go see him. I can’t see my grandson anymore,” said Michael Battie, Stacy’s grandfather.
Saying he didn’t mean to sound harsh, Battie added that he asked for the life sentence because when Valenzuela took a gun out, “He knew what he was doing.”
Valenzuela’s older brother, Alberto Valenzuela, said he was granted a second chance after time in the gang, and his brother deserves one, too.
“There’s always a second chance,” Alberto Valenzuela said. “I’m 30 now. All that kid stuff is in the past. I hope it’s in your heart to give him a second chance.”
Psychiatrist Dr. Karim Yamout said in Thursday’s hearing that Valenzuela had been asked by his gang to bring a gun to the scene and the point was to fire it, without the intention of killing anyone.
On May 21, 2007, Stacy was part of a group of more than a dozen children and teens who took off from the 3500 block of Fifth Street East in Bradenton, where they had gathered to watch two teenage boys, one of whom was affiliated with the street gang SUR-13, fight over a 13-year-old girl.
Stacy was hit in the neck with the bullet. He died from the gunshot.
Valenzuela, a documented gang member, was identified as the only shooter.
At Thursday’s hearing, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Detective Garrick Polncysnki said Valenzuela admitted he was a member of SUR-13.
Ashley Rios and her boyfriend, Johnny “Creep” Vazquez, drove the Sebring to the scene. Rios was the sister of the boy with the SUR-13 affiliation.
Brown said Valenzuela, by asking the at the top of the car be put down, knew what he was going to do.
Rios and Vazquez accepted plea deals and testified against Valenzuela in his 2008 trial.
His re-sentencing hearing comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences were unconstitutional for juveniles and the Florida Supreme Court ruled that cases in which discretion was used qualified for a new sentencing hearing.
Riva moved Thursday’s hearing from the courthouse in downtown Bradenton because of security concerns expressed by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
Only Riva, Valenzuela, his attorneys and the prosecutors from the State Attorney’s Office were allowed inside the small jail courtroom.
Members of the Valenzuela and Williams families silently watched a stream of the hearing on a monitor in a lobby area outside the courtroom, but past jail security.
The Valenzuela family filled nearly half the available seats.
Deputies stood around the chairs set up for families to view the monitor.
Stacy’s father, Stacy Williams II, told the court he was there when his son was shot and carried him to a nearby home.
The loss of his 9-year-old has been hard on the family, Williams said, and they miss him, still letting balloons loose in his memory twice a year, once on his birthday and again the anniversary of his death.
“It still bothers me, It still bothers me,” the child’s grandfather, Battie, told the court.
“We had just put him into boxing. I did. I tried to lead him out of stuff just like this here,” Battie said.
Valenzuela’s attorney acknowledged that her client’s childhood was not perfect.
Valenzuela’s mother, Blanca Betancourt, told the court through an interpreter that she did not know her son was involved in gang-related activity. She did the best she could, she said, but was working full time and raising of her children.
Valenzuela was expelled from school and was in multiple juvenile detention programs. At 13 he was at the same level of school-work as a third grader, getting older but not learning, clinical psychologist Wendy Jacobs testified.
At 10 years old, Valenzuela was hospitalized for days after being involved n a car crash.
He told Jacobs that he felt lesser-than the other siblings in his family. When he went to live with his cousins, he was exposed to gang activity. His biological father was not involved in his life.
He joined a gang to get the feeling of belonging he was missing, Jacobs indicated.
Joynt-Sanchez said her client was young and hanging out with a crowd that “called themselves a gang” and engaged in antisocial behavior that was not OK.