Pair plead guilty in 2005 death of Oregon woman

Scales of Justice (MGN Online, file)
Scales of Justice (MGN Online, file)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Two men have pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the 2005 death of a Hillsboro woman who was stabbed 29 times with a screwdriver.

Leonardo Cruz-Casarez, 38, and Jorge Reyes-Sanchez, 29, were convicted of aggravated murder two years after the killing of Jessie Mary Valero, but the Oregon Supreme Court tossed their convictions, saying the trial judge should have allowed hearsay evidence that a woman had confessed to the murder.

The men agreed Friday to serve 10-year sentences for first-degree manslaughter. With credit for time served, they will likely be released in 2015, The Oregonian newspaper reported.

Valero, 48, was found dead in her apartment after failing to show for work at the pizza restaurant chain Little Caesars.

Prosecutors contend Valero was killed during a burglary, in which the defendants planned to steal jewelry to exchange for methamphetamine.

Cruz-Casarez, Reyes-Sanchez and a third man, Jose Luis Lugardo-Madero, were charged in the death. The first two were found guilty of aggravated murder. The third testified against the other two and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter.

Cruz-Casarez and Reyes-Sanchez, both eligible for the death penalty, were sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole. Lugardo-Madero was sentenced to 15 years.

At trial, defense attorney Ray Bassel, who represented Cruz-Casarez, said an independent investigation turned up a different suspect.

He offered testimony from four witnesses, who told the court a woman had admitted to each of them that she stabbed a woman. Details in their testimony matched those in Valero’s death.

The now-retired Judge Mark Gardner did not allow the testimony, saying it didn’t meet the standards of an Oregon Evidence Code exception that allows hearsay evidence at trial.

On appeal, the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed the guilty findings and the Oregon Supreme Court upheld that ruling.

At Friday’s hearing, the victim’s relatives asked the judge not to accept the plea deal.

“Your honor, that was my mom,” Anita Valero said through tears, “that was brutally murdered three days before my birthday.”

Jessie Valero’s son, David, addressed the court by phone.

“I feel like right now, the justice system in Oregon isn’t doing anything,” he said. “I need you to reconsider this, judge.”

“My mom basically died for a high,” he said. “She did everything right in her life. Please reconsider this, judge.”

Judge Thomas Kohl said the state’s evidence, weakened or lost over time, led to a resolution he described as “unfortunate.”

“Most of you had asked that I not accept this plea,” he told the relatives. “That wouldn’t help.”

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