Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Immokalee Arsonist Sentenced To Life In Prison

WHAT: Career Criminal Sentencing

WHO: Leroy Trevino Valdez, 40, 1715 Palm Ave., Immokalee

WHEN: Monday, April 14, 2008

WHERE: Collier County Circuit Court

CHARGES: Arson of a dwelling, occupied dwelling burglary, petty theft, and resisting arrest

SUMMARY: Circuit Judge Fred Hardt sentenced Valdez as a habitual felony offender to life in prison on the arson charge, a first-degree felony.

The judge also sentenced Valdez to 15 years in prison on the burglary charge, a felony, to run consecutively to his life sentence. Valdez received credit for time served on the two misdemeanor charges.

Hardt handed down the sentence after a Collier County jury March 11 found Valdez guilty of the charges in connection with a Sept. 3, 2006, trailer fire in Immokalee.

Reports gave this account of the fire:

Valdez broke into a trailer at 1026 Baker St. around 4:15 a.m. Valdez went to the bedroom, where Salvador Leon, 28, was sleeping, and banged on the locked door. Valdez demanded that Leon open the door and give him money.

Leon slid three $1 bills under the door, telling Valdez that was all the money he had. An enraged Valdez yelled, “Then go to hell. You’re going to burn.”

Valdez then set the inside of the trailer on fire with a lighter.

Valdez ran out of the trailer just as CCSO deputies arrived. He ran back inside the burning trailer, jumping head first through a window screen, and attempted to escape.

Deputies captured Valdez after a brief foot chase through the neighborhood. A search of Valdez’s pockets turned up a can of soda he had stolen from the trailer, along with a simulated handgun, two $1 bills and a lighter.

CCSO deputies evacuated residents of nearby trailers. Leon received minor injuries as he escaped the fire by leaping out his bedroom window. One firefighter also received minor injuries battling the blaze.

Valdez is a documented career criminal in Collier County. His prior felony convictions include burglary and grand theft in 1989, burglary and grand theft in 1995, attempt to purchase a controlled substance in 1997, and aggravated fleeing or attempting to elude in 2003.

He has been sentenced to state prison on four prior occasions. His most recent release from prison was Jan. 6, 2005.

The life prison sentence plus 15 years handed down Monday by Judge Hardt is the maximum punishment Valdez could have received under state law. A life prison sentence in Florida means for life with no chance of parole.