Defense attorneys request more time to review reports in Avina case

Merced Sun Star || 1-Jan-2007

The case has already gathered 100 pages of documents.

MERCED - Four of the suspects accused of burning a Livingston woman to death did not enter pleas Friday because their court-appointed defense attorneys said they needed more time to investigate the case.

This was the first time the men, shackled and in color-coded jail uniforms, had appeared in person before a judge for this case.

They did not speak and sat slumped in wooden chairs in the jury box. The chains around their feet rattled as they shuffled down the hall into the courtroom.

During the last three hearings, their appearances had been broadcast to the courtroom through a live video feed from the jail.

Given the nature of the crime and with each of the five suspects having his own attorney, the case will probably take more time to work its way through the court system.

Five men are accused of murdering 27-year-old Rosa Avina because she allegedly stole about $750 worth of methamphetamine and low-grade marijuana. Investigators say the suspects took her to a remote part of South Avenue in Ballico and set her on fire.

Barely alive, she was found Oct. 24 bound, gagged and severely burned. She died days later in a Santa Clara hospital.

In early October, Merced County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Livingston residents Urbano Ortega, 27, and Alvaro Reyes, 28; Delhi resident Luis Vazquez, 18; and Turlock resident Omar Cebrero, 28.

They’re charged with murder, conspiracy, mayhem, torture and kidnapping. All are being held in lieu of $1.6 million bail at the downtown jail and the John Latorraca Correctional Facility.

A fifth suspect, Delhi resident Luis Valencia, 24, is being held in Stanislaus County on separate charges unrelated to Avina’s death.

District Attorney Larry Morse II said he’d like to prosecute all five suspects together, but believes some of the defense attorneys may try to break the case apart.

He hasn’t decided yet if he’ll seek the death penalty, noting that there is a lengthy review process to make that determination. “It’s pretty rare,” Morse said. “Certainly this crime is a shocking one, and the circumstances are mind-boggling.”

Cebrero, Ortega and Reyes had court interpreters to translate the proceedings into Spanish. Before the hearing, a bailiff told them not to motion or speak to audience members.

Though it seemed that the suspects would enter pleas, the defense attorneys asked that the process be delayed until Dec. 14.

Jeffrey Tenenbaum, who represents Cebrero, said there’s about 100 pages of reports and that the attorneys still need more evidence, such as tapes of interviews, to be shared.

After the suspects enter pleas, the prosecution will hold a preliminary hearing to try to prove there’s enough evidence to bring the case to trial.

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