A Ramsey County jury on Friday convicted Santana M. Valdez, a midlevel methamphetamine dealer, of carrying out with another man the horrific slaying of Andrew Braun, who bled to death after Valdez and a second man attacked him with a hammer, knife, bayonet and sword last March.
Jurors convicted Valdez, 36, of two counts of second-degree murder after two co-defendants, who earlier pleaded guilty, said he wielded the screwdriver and Samurai sword. The trio, originally from Mexico and living under bridges, went to Braun’s home at 763 E. Lawson Avenue to collect a drug debt on March 19, testimony showed.
The state maintained that the trio intended to rob Braun, a man who had worked many years on barge crews but had lost his job. He had turned to selling drugs to help pay his mortgage, said those who knew him.
Valdez carried plastic gloves, a screwdriver, his usual straight-edged pocket knife and hair spray, which he used to spray in Braun’s eyes and disorient him.
Braun, whose body was covered head to toe with wounds, had been fighting off co-defendant Carlos Amador who was stabbing him on his living room floor. At the same time, Valdez had been hitting Braun’s head with a screwdriver, Prosecutor David Miller told jurors.
Amador, who is now serving 25 years for his role in the murder, testified that Braun fought until he simply had no more strength.
Amador said a third co-defendant, Maria Luna, who also was involved in the drug conspiracy, had bought two BB pistols that the men were going to use to scare Braun. She translated always because Valdez spoke no English, and it was Luna who gave the signal just before the men jumped Braun as he sat in his living room recliner, Amador had testified.
He said Luna also joined in the bloody attack.
Luna told jurors of how Valdez had begun the attack with a screwdriver, and that he was the one who nearly chopped off Braun’s right arm with a Samurai sword. She’s in prison on drug charges but has yet to be sentenced after pleading guilty to being an accomplice after the fact in the slaying.
The chop to his right arm, which severed his elbow bone from his forearm, would have rendered Braun unable to keep using that arm, at the same time he was growing weaker from losing blood, Ramsey County Medical Examiner Michael McGee had testified.
After the guilty verdicts Friday morning, jurors returned to deliberations and found aggravating factors that will allow Judge Gregg Johnson to give Valdez a longer sentence than called for under state sentencing guidelines. Sentencing will be April 3.
As jurors went to chambers to deliberate the aggravating factors, including that the case was tied to an international drug cartel, the victim’s mother, Linda Braun of St. Paul, gave prosecutor David Miller a thumbs-up gesture, as she waited in the courtroom.
“I’m very happy,” she told him.
Valdez, in addition to this conviction for Andy Braun’s murder, still faces five felony charges in connection with trafficking drugs, and immigration officials have placed a hold on him as an undocumented immigrant. He will likely face deportation after serving his sentences in Minnesota.