A story for every victim

Sentencing: Two life terms for convicted felon who killed couple

Photo: Robert Valdez, Credit: LAPDReaders have asked the Homicide Report for an update on a double slaying that occurred more than four years ago in Granada Hills.

Robert Valdez, a 29-year-old Latino, pleaded guilty to 19 counts — including arson and two counts of first-degree murder — and was sentenced Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011, to 605 years in state prison, with two consecutive terms of life without the possibility of parole.

“He will die in prison,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Blake.

The murders took place on the evening of Jan. 23, 2007. Renee Spata, an 18-year-old Latina, and Marvin Tobar, a 21-year-old Latino, had just ended a date when they arrived at a home in the 10000 block of North Danube Avenue in Granada Hills, said Det. Efren Gutierrez of the Los Angeles Police Department's Mission station, who handled the investigation.

The semi-vacant residence was being rented by Tobar's friends, who were in the midst of moving out, Gutierrez said. During the transition, they were staying with Tobar at his place in North Hollywood. Tobar and Spata went to the Granada Hills home to spend some time alone, Gutierrez said.

Photo: (Left) Mario Tobar and Renee Spata, Credit: DMVAt some point during the night, while Spata and Tobar were inside, Valdez broke into the home.

Valdez, a documented gang member, then shot Spata and Tobar and set the home on fire, police said.

A patrol officer driving by saw smoke coming from the house and alerted the Los Angeles Fire Department. As firefighters extinguished the flames, they discovered two bodies in one of the rooms.

Authorities were told by a friend of Tobar that the couple had been in the home that night, Gutierrez said. But the bodies were burned so badly that the coroner's office had to identify them through dental records.

“The two kids were apparently strangers to him,” Blake said. “The murders were totally senseless crimes with victims completely at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Valdez was on parole when he killed Spata and Tobar. More than two months after the blaze, Valdez was arrested on March 31, 2007, after a four-day crime spree that ended with Valdez shooting at police, falsely imprisoning the residents of a house and hiding in the attic where he was finally captured, Blake said.

More than four years later, Valdez pleaded guilty Aug. 17, 2011, to a total of 19 counts, including: two counts of first-degree murder, one count of arson, multiple counts of carjacking and robbery that occurred March 27 to March 30 in 2007, two counts of assault with a firearm on a police officer, two counts of kidnapping for robbery and three counts of false imprisonment by violence. He also pleaded guilty to two counts of assault with a semiautomatic weapon for a gang-related incident that occurred Jan. 7, 2007.

“This was a very complex case,” Blake said. “There was a lot of effort put into just deciding if this case was appropriate to consider for life without parole.” Blake said that before Valdez entered the plea, all the victims’ family members also had agreed to the decision.

Valdez was not given the death penalty after considering many factors.

“One significant factor that weighed heavily in his favor,” Blake said, “was that as soon as he was captured, he very sincerely apologized and confessed to his crimes. And he gave specific information on the crimes, which aided the investigation.”

Valdez's prior convictions include assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer in 1994, robbery in 1995, selling and transportation of a controlled substance in 1996, possession of a controlled substance in 1997, assault with intent to commit mayhem, rape, sodomy, oral copulation or other sexual assault in 1999 and selling ammunition to a person under the age of 21 in 2003.

He is being held in Los Angeles County Jail until he is taken to state prison.

-- Rosanna Xia

Top photo: Robert Valdez

Credit: Los Angeles Police Department

Bottom photos: Mario Tobar and Renee Spata

Credit: California Department of Motor Vehicles

Post a comment

Before you post, here are some answers to frequently asked questions:

Remember, all posts are approved by a Times staffer. Profanity and personal attacks will not be approved.


Eight reader comments