Medical examiner records reveal new details in suspected murder of Shaker Heights woman
GRAPHIC WARNING: This story includes details that some may find disturbing.
CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Preliminary reports from investigators are revealing new details in the suspected murder of a Shaker Heights woman whose body was discovered during a welfare check last month.
GRAPHIC WARNING: The details of this story may be disturbing to some readers.
While court records filed Feb. 3 identified the victim as 42-year-old Maria Valenzuela, the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office did not release Valenzuela’s name until Feb. 22.
The official cause and manner of her death are still pending, according to the medical examiner’s office.
Valenzuela was last seen alive on Jan. 15 when surveillance cameras recorded her entering her Tolland Road apartment with a man shortly before 12:30 a.m., according to investigators.
When the man left Valenzuela’s apartment the following day, he could be seen on camera carrying garbage bags out of the building.
Two weeks later, on Jan. 31, concerned relatives of Valenzuela’s contacted the Shaker Heights Police Department and asked them to conduct a welfare check.
When officers entered Valenzuela’s apartment that evening, they found her body wrapped up in several blankets on a hallway floor.
According to records, the victim had been decapitated. Her head was not located at the scene.
Investigators noted there was blood throughout the apartment, including on a jewelry box. A small dog was also found deceased in a crate inside the apartment.
24-year-old Christian Warner of Cleveland was arrested Feb. 2 in connection with Valenzuela’s death. He was taken into custody at a mental health and substance abuse treatment facility in Tamarac, Florida, according to records from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.
Warner was indicted by a Cuyahoga County grand jury on Feb. 3 on several felony charges, including aggravated murder, murder, felonious assault, aggravated robbery, grand theft, offenses against a human corpse, and tampering with evidence.
The indictment alleges Warner caused “serious physical harm” to Valenzuela but does not describe any injuries or indicate if a weapon was used. Investigators said the suspect also stole the victim’s vehicle.
Shaker Heights Police said it was apparent early in the investigation that the attack on Valenzuela was not random.
Warner was previously indicted for felonious assault in Dec. 2018, and court records identify Valenzuela as his victim.
The alleged incident occurred in Cleveland on Nov. 27, 2018.
According to detectives, Warner punched Valenzuela in her right eye, causing her eye to swell shut. She also needed stitches to close a wound to her face.
Warner was ordered not to have any contact with Valenzuela following his arrest and his case was assigned to a specialized mental health docket.
Days before Warner was set to go on trial in Feb. 2019, he requested a continuance of his final pretrial hearing so that he could participate in a “Court in the Classroom” event at Shaker Heights Middle School.
“Court in the Classroom” is a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court program that “brings the Court to middle schools” throughout the county, and actual criminal proceedings are conducted in front of 8th grade students.
According to the court’s website, two “lower level cases” are chosen, and they are “usually a plea change” and a probation sentencing.
Court records confirm Warner attended the court hearing at the middle school.
As part of a plea agreement, his felonious assault charge, a second-degree felony, was amended to a lesser burglary charge, a fourth-degree felony.
Warner pleaded guilty to the reduced charge and was sentenced to two years of community control under the supervision of the adult probation department’s domestic violence program. He was also ordered to attended domestic violence classes.
Less than two months after he was sentenced, Warner was back in court for violating his community control sanctions. He was not sent to prison; instead, the judge allowed him to continue his community control.
In March 2020, the court referred Warner for a substance abuse assessment and then ordered him to complete inpatient treatment.
His community control was terminated in Feb. 2021.
Warner is scheduled to be arraigned on the new charges in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court on Friday. However, according to Broward County court and jail records, he is still in custody in Florida.
Broward County court records show Warner waived his extradition to Ohio on Feb. 7 and he would continue to be held without bail in a Fort Lauderdale jail until his return to Cuyahoga County.
On Thursday, Shaker Heights Police provided the community with an update on the case, and also acknowledged the many agencies and organizations that have assisted with the investigation.
“Our officers and civilian staff worked around the clock to identify and locate a suspect, as well as ensure our community was safe from any threat,” the department wrote in a Facebook post.
“We understand how distressing a crime like this is to our residents and community members. However, the safety of our residents is always our main priority as we continue this ongoing investigation. Our thoughts are with the family of Maria Valenzuela.”
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