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Split verdicts in killing of 'trusting' drug dealer

Jurors convicted two men involved in the fatal robbery of a 38-year-old drug dealer of first degree murder last week, but deadlocked on murder charges for two other people allegedly involved.

Stuart Rubio, a 34-year-old Latino, and Heriberto Valenzuela, a 33-year-old Latino, were found guilty July 17 of killing Robert Hendrix in his Kagel Canyon home on Dec. 10, 2011. Jurors also found them guilty of robbery and burglary charges. A gun allegation was also found true for Rubio, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.

Rubio and Valenzuela had been at a party in Tujunga on the day of the murder before driving to Hendrix’s home to rob him around 3 a.m., prosecutors said. They drove together with the two other defendants in the case, Melissa Soto, a 27-year-old Latina, and her boyfriend at the time, Josh Rogers, a 27-year-old white man. According to court testimony, the group left in Soto’s red Saturn.

Hendrix was a methamphetamine dealer in the area, one that authorities and witnesses called a “good guy dope dealer.” Hendrix rented a room in the home -- which had been repossessed -- and frequently had visitors such as Soto, according to court testimony.

Sometimes he’d exchange stolen property such as watches and rings, for drugs. Other times, if people recognized their stolen items, he’d give it back to them.

“He was a trusting dope dealer,” said Det. Todd Anderson with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.  “He wound up getting ripped off all the time because of it.”

After the killing, Valenzuela rushed to the red Saturn, which was identified by witnesses, and left a white Fila shoe in the street, according to prosecutors. A neighbor heard the shots and called authorities.

Witnesses testified during the trial that Rubio bragged about the killing, was in possession of weapons used in the murder and that he had been asking people to drive him to rob a drug dealer. Rubio also had gunshot residue on a hoodie when he was arrested.

When Valenzuela was arrested, deputies recovered property belonging to Hendrix. In addition, a shoe left at the scene contained Valenzuela’s DNA as well as Hendrix’s.

Detectives tracked Soto and Rubio’s cell phone records and found that they were in the area at the time of the crime.

A jury could not decide on murder charges against Soto and Rogers, who witnesses testified was named by Rubio as being involved in the murder. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Stephen A. Marcus declared a mistrial in their cases.

Valenzuela and Rubio are scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 14. The two men face a maximum sentenced of life in prison without parole, according to the district attorney’s office.

Prosecutors plan to retry Soto and Rogers. They are scheduled to be back in court for a hearing Aug. 8.

Hendrix’s stepmother, Sheila Andrews, attended portions of the trial along with her daughter. She cried as the verdicts were read and said she was happy to get some justice.“I would have liked to see them all convicted,” she said.

-- Nicole Santa Cruz

Photo: Robert Hendrix. Courtesy of Richie Hendrix

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