Man pleads to beating girl, 2, to death
June 27, 2007
Jose “Joey” Valencia Jr. entered a guilty plea Wednesday morning to second-degree murder in the death of a 2-year-old girl in 2005.
Valencia entered what is known as an Alford plea, meaning he maintains his innocence but agrees the prosecution has enough evidence for a probable conviction. A judge treats an Alford plea the same as a guilty plea at sentencing. Valencia was originally charged with first-degree murder.
Defense attorney Paul Yohey said Valencia believed it was in his best interest to accept the second-degree murder charge because the plea bargain agreement dismisses other charges filed against him, including an allegation he is a habitual criminal.
“He has three felony convictions out of Arizona,” Yohey said after Valencia was returned to the Churchill County Jail to await sentencing. “The possibility of the life sentence is quite high.”
Yohey said even if Valencia had prevailed in the murder and child abuse case, the prosecution would almost certainly have gone forward with a separate trial on the habitual criminal charge. His client also faced two stolen property charges, two drug charges and a child-abuse charge stemming from a broken wrist the child suffered two months before her death.
Valencia is accused in the beating death of Nikaliah Knoch. The toddler died Aug. 16, 2005, two days after being taken off life support at a Reno hospital.
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She suffered more than 30 injuries to her body – some new and some healing – and a fatal head injury from an alleged beating at the family’s East Virginia Street home. Valencia was the boyfriend of Julie Camacho, Nikaliah’s mother.
He is accused of hitting the little girl with a clothes hanger and his fist because she soiled her diaper and a bed.
District Attorney Arthur Mallory said the guilty plea is a good resolution to the case because two key witnesses were Nikaliah’s brother and sister, who were 5 years old and 4 years old, respectively, at the time of the incident. Both children were expected to testify Wednesday at Valencia’s trial.
“Not having to put the children through this again is quite an accomplishment,” Mallory said. “We will be free to argue on the punishment, and will be asking for life.”
At Valencia’s July 31 sentencing hearing, District Judge David A. Huff has two options: life in prison with parole eligibility after 10 years or a definite term of 25 years with parole eligibility after 10 years.
First-degree murder carries potential penalties of life in prison with parole eligibility after 20 years or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Deputy District Attorney Lane Mills, who was the lead prosecutor on the case, said the Nevada Parole Board considers an inmate’s criminal history when weighing who is released on parole.
By signing the plea bargain agreement, Valencia gave up his right to appeal.
Both youngsters told investigators and a social worker that “Joey killed Nikaliah” and that he hit her foot and hand with a clothes hanger.
Yohey alleges the victim’s mother and brother should have been held responsible for the injuries to Nikaliah. Henry Allen Camacho and Valencia were home with the three children when Nikaliah started having trouble breathing. Yohey had hoped to convince the jury that Henry Camacho committed the crime.
“Joey Valencia is not an evil man. I’ve been with him two years and know he’s not an evil man,” Yohey said. “He maintains he didn’t do it.”
Yohey said he is confident that if Julie Camacho or Henry Camacho had been charged with crimes connected to the homicide, they would have been convicted.
“Nobody’s hands are clean here,” he said. “It was brutal, there’s no question. Brutal doesn’t even cover it.”
He contends there were so many bruises on Nikaliah at the time of her death that her mother must have seen them.