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Palmdale man is convicted in decades-old arson fire


A Palmdale man whom prosecutors contend was a gang leader was convicted this week of the murders of 10 people, including two pregnant women, who died in a 1993 arson fire at an apartment building in the Westlake area of Los Angeles.

The downtown Los Angeles jury deliberated about two hours before finding Ramiro Alberto Valerio—also known as “Greedy’’—guilty of 10 counts of first-degree murder and two counts of first-degree murder of a human fetus.

Authorities said in 2017 that they believed the fire was set in retaliation because a building manager was trying to crack down on drug-dealing at the 69-unit complex in the 300 block of West Burlington Avenue.

Jurors also found true the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder during arson of an inhabited structure, along with aggravating factors including one alleging that the victims were particularly vulnerable.

The 48-year-old defendant is facing life in prison without the possibility of parole, with sentencing set for Aug. 5 before Superior Court Judge Curtis B. Rappe. Prosecutors had opted not to seek the death penalty under prior Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s administration.

Valerio was charged along with Johanna Lopez, now 57, and Joseph Monge, now 47, in connection with the blaze, which left more than 40 others injured and more than 100 residents displaced.

Lopez–described in court by a prosecutor as a “major drug dealer’’—pleaded guilty in February 2020 to two counts of voluntary manslaughter and is facing 22 years in state prison, while Monge pleaded guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter and admitted a gang allegation.

A fourth person who is suspected of starting the fire inside the apartment building is still being sought by authorities.

In his closing argument in Valerio’s trial, Deputy District Attorney Victor Avila called it a “horrific crime,’’ and said it was “the result of the greed not only of this defendant, but his gang’’ involving a “money-making enterprise that cannot be jeopardized.’’

“These victims had the misfortune to live in the area controlled by this defendant’s gang,’’ the prosecutor said. “They control these areas because they instill fear in these people.”

Those who died as a result of smoke inhalation from the fire were: Olga Leon, 24, and Rosalia Ruiz, 21, who were both pregnant; 1-year-old Lancy Mateo; 3-year-old Jose Camargo; 4-year-old Jesus Camargo; 6-year-old William Verdugo; 7-year-old Rosia Camargo; 8-year-old Yadira Verdugo; 10-year-old Leyver Verdugo; and 29-year-old Alejandrina Roblero.