Leonardo Valdez-Cruz, the Westbury man who tortured and killed his girlfriend Jo'Anna Bird in a case that highlighted the shortcomings of Nassau police investigations of domestic violence, was sentenced Monday to spend the rest of his life in prison.
The emotional sentencing at Nassau County Court marked the end of the criminal case against Valdez-Cruz, and also opens the door for seven Nassau police officers to face disciplinary charges for allegedly failing to properly follow up after responding to repeated domestic disturbance calls involving Bird and Valdez-Cruz at Bird's mother's home before the murder.
Police spokesman Det. Lt. Kevin Smith said supervision on domestic violence cases had been intensified in the aftermath of the case but he did not elaborate on the results.
Last year, Nassau Police Commisioner Lawrence Mulvey said he was using the incident and subsequent Internal Affairs investigation to install new procedures to enhance a domestic incident policy that he said is the model for the state.
Monday, Walton Bird said of his daughter, Jo'Anna Bird, 24, "The justice system let her down," just moments after Nassau County Court Judge John Kase sentenced her killer to life in prison without the possibility of parole. "They didn't take care of it the first time . . . and now the second time around, justice prevailed."
In April, a jury found Valdez-Cruz, 24, guilty of first-degree murder, burglary and other charges in the March 19, 2009, slaying of Bird, his estranged girlfriend and mother of his two children, ages 5 and 7. Prosecutors said Valdez-Cruz stalked and threatened Bird for months, despite several orders of protection against him, before finally breaking into her New Cassel home, torturing her, and stabbing her to death.
In court Monday, Bird's mother, Sharon Dorsett, 49, of Westbury, took deep breaths and tried to compose herself before addressing Valdez-Cruz, who walked in with a slight smile minutes earlier.
"When Jo'Anna was tortured and taken from me at the brutal hands of Leonardo Valdez-Cruz, I lost a part of me and my entire future," Dorsett said through tears. "My baby Jo'Anna is gone because of this violent monster."
Valdez-Cruz, who has maintained his innocence, lifted his cuffed hands to wipe his own tears as Dorsett talked of how she wished her daughter had never met the repeat offender, and how she prays one day God will allow her to forgive him.
After Nassau Assistant District Attorney Madeline Singas made her arguments for sentencing Valdez-Cruz, who she described as a "24-year-old man without anything redeeming in his life," Valdez-Cruz stood to address the court. He read a lengthy, and often cryptic, statement in which he philosophized about love, loss and fatherhood.
Near the end of his statement, Valdez-Cruz looked skyward and told Bird he loved her, then turned to the slain woman's relatives and supporters in the court gallery. He said he wished to give them his "heart" and his condolences.
"But I'm afraid there is something I cannot give you, and that is an apology. . . . Because I did nothing wrong," said Valdez-Cruz, who has said he plans to appeal his verdict. "I may be a lot of things, but a killer is not one of them."
Kase said the defendant's words were intelligent, well written and "quite frankly, pretty disturbing." He said it was apparent Valdez-Cruz did not realize the pain he had caused. As he left the courtroom, Valdez-Cruz looked at some relatives in the gallery and said to them, "I love you. This is not over yet."
The effects on police
As a result of the Jo'Anna Bird case, the Nassau police department brought internal disciplinary charges against seven officers.
The officers, including a supervisor, were accused of failing to properly follow up on the case after responding to repeated domestic disturbance calls involving Bird and Valdez-Cruz.
Nassau police spokesman Lt. Kevin Smith said the case has led to increased supervision of domestic disturbances, but said he could not quantify what the results have been.
Last year, Nassau Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey ordered that all domestic violence calls that do not result in an arrest or in a report must be entered into an officer's data terminal, and the incident must also be reported to a supervisor.
Bird's family has a wrongful-death suit pending against Nassau police.