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9OYS Investigates: murder case is accused child killer's third

9OYS Investigates: murder case is accused child killer's third

CREATED Apr 13, 2011

Reporter: Joel Waldman and Martha Serda
Web Producer: Layla Tang

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – A Tucson family struggled to cope Tuesday night as they prepared to bury a 7-year-old boy who was gunned down in a horrific act of violence.  Relatives of the little boy known as John-John, are even more upset now that they're learning about the accused shooter's violent past.

First grader Johnathan Federico was fatally shot late Friday night as he and his sister ran out of their Corbett neighborhood apartment to investigate noises they thought were fireworks. Police say Alvin Valenzuela was randomly firing a handgun in the neighborhood when the little boy was hit.  Witnesses have maintained there was no way that John-John's shooting was accidental.

At the Martinez Funeral Home, hugs were given all around all around.  Jon-Jon's family and friends gathered there for his viewing.  But viewing a picture of his accused killer really got the boy's family all worked up.

"Just stress and sadness and crying," said one of John-John's cousins.  "It's hard to see that my cousin, aged seven had (his) life taken away. A seven-year-old, innocent little kid."

But, not so innocent, it turns out, is Alvin Valenzuela.  KGUN9 News has learned the 21-year-old has a violent past, served time in prison, and just got out of jail less than a month ago after spending years behind bars.  John-John's uncle is mad at the federal government, specifically the U.S. Attorney's office. It is responsible for prosecuting more serious crimes, like murder, but Brito believes the government dropped the ball with Valenzuela.

"They didn't do what they were supposed to and because of that an innocent boy lost his life," said Miguel Brito.

Four years ago, records show reservation police arrested the Tohono O'Odham tribal member in Sells for "using a firearm with the intent to frighten, injure and kill." And, those same records show that "intent to injure and kill" turned into reality. Two men were shot and killed July 29, 2007, and Valenzuela was charged with eight felony counts, including aggravated assault, the most serious charge under reservation law. He pleaded guilty, but due to a technicality in the law, was sentenced to nearly 3 1/2 years in a New Mexico prison.

Despite what most would consider getting off easy, that 3 1/2 year sentence wasn't good enough for Valenzuela. He sued, arguing that his sentence violated the Indian Civil Rights Act. Valenzuela lost. But, he was released less than one month ago after serving his time.

Now, Valenzuela is back in the Pima County Jail on suspicion of shooting and killing 7-year-old Johnathan Federico in cold blood.  

KGUN9 spoke to a source close to the original reservation investigation. He told us there is no such thing as a homicide charge on the reservation; aggravated assault is the most serious charge. And, that's what reservation prosecutors aggressively sought. The source told KGUN9 they got less time for Valenzuela than they had hoped. But, what they also really hoped for; federal prosecutors to step in and take over the case.

The same source told us it's the responsibility of the federal government to prosecute more serious charges, like homicide. But, he went on to say those cases often slip through the cracks. Right now, no one knows for sure if that's what happened in this particular case.

But for the family of Johnathan Federico, all that matters right now is the pain of having to bury their bright and sweet little boy. Relatives and friends have been holding car washes around Tucson to raise money for John-John's funeral expenses, and a candlelight vigil is planned for Wednesday night near the spot where he was gunned down.