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Teen becomes ‘juvenile lifer’ after being sentenced for killing 14-year-old girl as part of gang initiation


The Cobb County District Attorney’s Office has announced the sentencing of a teenager, Brayan Rivas, in connection with the senseless stabbing death of another teen.

This tragic incident, described as a gang initiation, occurred when Rivas was 15 years old, and his victim was a 14-year-old teen. Now 18, Rivas pleaded guilty to malice murder and violation of the street gang act and has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, along with an additional 20-year sentence.

Notably, Rivas became the 32nd young person to receive a life without parole sentence in Georgia since 2012.

The incident took place on April 8, 2020, when the police were called to The Arbors at East Cobb complex after a juvenile reported his girlfriend missing. The following day, the body of 14-year-old Janina Valenzuela, from Marietta, was discovered in the woods behind the apartments.

Prosecutors revealed that Rivas had threatened both Valenzuela and her boyfriend, prompting them to flee. Unfortunately, Rivas caught up with the girl and tragically killed her.

Initially, upon his arrest, Rivas denied involvement in the murder, claiming he had witnessed someone else commit the crime, as per investigators.

However, the DA’s office revealed, “In a subsequent letter obtained by law enforcement that the defendant mailed from jail, he confessed to killing the juvenile female and admitted his intention to also kill the male.”

Further investigation determined that Rivas had ties to the MS-13 street gang through an examination of his phone, social media, and home.

The knife used in the killing was discovered in the suspect’s home, and testing by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) confirmed the presence of the victim’s DNA on the weapon, according to investigators.

Assistant District Attorney Jay Winkler expressed, “This was one of the most heinous and senseless murders that I have ever worked. The loss of any loved one is tragic, but the loss of a child to such a senseless violent act is immeasurable.

I only hope that the family has some peace knowing that the man responsible will spend the rest of his days behind bars.”

Rivas’ sentence places him among a unique cohort of defendants known as “juvenile lifers,” referring to individuals under 18 who are sentenced to life without parole.


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