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DA’s Office Updates Court Proceedings In Murder-Arson Case

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Sonora, CA –- Court processes are underway as Mother Lode residents continue processing a horrific homicide and arson incident of two weeks ago implicating two juveniles.

The District Attorney’s Office elected to make a court motion for the case to be transferred from the juvenile court to the adult court since both juveniles are 16 years old. In the meantime, they remain in juvenile detention with legal representation assigned from the Public Defender office. However, they are unable to enter a plea under the court determines how they will be tried.

In an interview with Clarke Broadcasting, Assistant District Attorney Eric Hovatter updates, “Where we are at right now is that both of our minors have counsel and there is a significant amount of discovery –- police reports, interviews, and things of that nature that they are collecting.”

As reported here, last week, as sheriff’s officials shared the identity of the deceased person found in a brush fire near a burning home in Columbia Aug. 14 as 39-year-old Dionecia Valencia, they acknowledged the arrest of two 16-year-old juveniles known but not related to her, who were arrested and charged with murder, attempted murder and arson.

Officials further released that Valencia’s death was caused by “multiple sharp force and chop force injuries” and bladed weapons were among evidence recovered from the scene that investigators were able to tie to the two suspects. Investigators believe there are no other suspects in the case.

Ahead of the transfer hearing, “The court has ordered the Probation Department to begin preparing a report,” Hovatter explains. He details the information gathering will include juveniles’ personal, school and community history; if they have any juvenile offenses, and if so, have they been given services, and what have they done. It will also address whether they are capable of being rehabilitated in the juvenile system and the aspects and gravity of their offenses. He adds that there may or may not be testimony at the hearing.

“Our job and Probation’s job is to get all the information on these two individuals…everything that could possibly be pertinent, put it in the judge’s hands, and the judge has to make the difficult decision,” Hovatter says. Asked how long the process will take, he readily acknowledges, “There’s not a lot of precedence in our county. But in talking to larger counties, the process can take weeks to months.”

He provides that under the current system, if tried and found guilty as juveniles, the suspects could be held up to the age of 23 years, including within a facility that is the juvenile equivalent of prison, during which time they would be subject to considerable rehabilitative efforts. If tried and convicted through the adult system, for example, of first-degree murder, they could face 25 years to life in prison.

Hovatter notes that the necessary time and due-diligence involved in the transfer proceedings are paramount. “[This case] involves minors and people who have lost loved ones, and because of the importance of all involved, the process has to be done right.”