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Miami-Dade County judge reduces teen killer's life sentence to 40 years

Prosecutors plan to appeal Judge Ellen Sue Venzer's decision

Ronald Salazar, who was convicted of killing and raping his 11-year-old sister in 2011, was sentenced to life in prison, but a Supreme Court ruled that juveniles convicted of murder cannot receive such sentences without consideration of their ages.

MIAMI – Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Ellen Sue Venzer decided Friday that a teen killer from El Salvador -- who refused sex offender treatment -- deserved another chance.

Ronald Eric Salazar killed his sister, 11-year-old Marina Estefani Salazar, and raped her as she was bleeding out in his parent's South Miami Heights home. He used a Winnie the Pooh comforter to cover her body. Washed the blood off the kitchen knife he used to slit her throat and put it back in the kitchen. 

Salazar was 14-years-old when he confessed to the crime July 25, 2005. He said his "mission" was to kill his parents, two sisters and little brother, because they didn't love him. His dad, he said, was threatening to return him to El Salvador, so he started with his favorite daughter.

"I went to her room. I choked her and she was still breathing," the teen told a Miami-Dade County detective calmly. "Then I lift her shirt up to see if her heart was pumping ... she was already dead and she was bleeding [when I slit her throat 3 times]."

Before the murder, Florida Department of Children and Families had determined he was not a danger, despite his murderous threats. Jurors rejected his insanity plea and found him guilty of first-degree murder and sexual battery. Salazar was sentenced to two life terms, but that no longer stands.

While in prison, he said he was thinking of gruesome ways to kill the rest of his family. He masturbated in front of a female guard. He revealed that he threatened his other sister with a knife and ordered her to take off her clothes before the murder. And he said that the reason why he raped the lifeless body was because he knew he wasn't going to have sex in a long time.

"Judge that should disturb you that he turned down sexual offender treatment in prison," Assistant State Attorney Christina Zahralban said during a hearing.

Despite prosecutors warnings about his capacity for evil, Venzer showed Friday that she believes in Salazar. She reduced his sentence to 40 years for each charge -- which will be imposed concurrently. And he will also be eligible to request a re-sentencing review in 2030.

The 24-year-old was able to ask Venzer to reduce his sentence, because of a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling acknowledging scientific findings about teens' brain development.

Defense attorneys said society had failed the boy, who was now volunteering as a tutor behind bars. Salazar said he was a victim of sexual abuse and gang violence in El Salvador. He had trouble adjusting to his new family in Miami, after his grandmother's death and a treacherous journey as an undocumented migrant.

After he shed some tears, Venzer said Salazar's upbringing was "horrific." She also noted Friday that he was mentally ill and was not getting the treatment that he needed when he committed the crime.

Under the 2012 ruling that allowed Salazar to plea for mercy, mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole are only reserved for juveniles who are "irreparably corruptible."

Prosecutors fear that he is "irreparably corruptible." They are convinced that he is a manipulative criminal, who is too dangerous to be anyone's neighbor. And they plan to appeal Venzer's ruling.

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