Jerome Smith, 37, of Modesto, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 2015 murder of 31-year-old Valerie Rose Villegas.
While living in a rented motel room on South Ninth Street in south Modesto on Nov. 14, 2015, Smith bludgeoned Villegas on the back of the head with a gun. According to Deputy District Attorney Dina Petrushenko, Smith then set fire to the room while the victim was still living. Firefighters found Villegas in the bathroom, where she had died of smoke inhalation.
Video surveillance taken prior to the murder showed that Smith and the victim were the only two people going to and from the motel room.
A Stanislaus County Superior Court jury on Oct. 25 convicted Smith of murder by arson, an enhancement for using a firearm, arson of an inhabited structure and being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.
On March 6 Judge Marie Silveira sentenced Smith to life without the possibility of parole along with an additional, consecutive 10-year term for using a firearm.