‘I have no doubt that you killed her’: Man sentenced to 26 years for estranged wife’s murder

A man who murdered his estranged wife -- whose badly burned body was discovered at a homeless encampment in Granada Hills -- was sentenced Thursday to 26 years to life in state prison.

"I have no doubt that you killed her," Superior Court Judge Eleanor J. Hunter told Hector Veloz, who was found guilty May 2 of first-degree murder for Sandra Velasco's June 2017 slaying.

The judge told the 51-year-old defendant that he covered up his crime, "kept up the charade" and in the "ultimate insult" burned the 52-year- old woman's body beyond recognition.

"The way you treated your wife was despicable," Hunter said.

The judge rejected the defense's request to reduce Veloz's conviction from first-degree murder to second-degree murder.

Along with the murder charge, jurors found that Veloz personally used a knife in the attack against his wife of two years.

The coroner's office could not determine how the woman died, but the prosecution believes she was stabbed, given the discovery of a knife with the victim's blood on it and a large amount of blood in the back seat of her car, according to Deputy District Attorney John McKinney. She had also suffered blunt force trauma resulting in a skull fracture, according to the prosecutor.

In his closing argument, the deputy district attorney told jurors that the victim had changed the locks on her Panorama City home just over a week after an incident of domestic violence involving Veloz and that she was last seen on June 18, 2017, at a storage unit where she was trying to drop off clothing he had requested.

"This was on a brutal killing that went on for some time," the prosecutor told jurors.

The woman's body was dumped near a gas station and found two days later following a fire, and she was originally listed as a "Jane Doe" because her body was so badly burned, McKinney said. A good Samaritan subsequently found her belongings, including a criminal protective order, in another location, and two of the woman's adult children found her car in a Target parking lot near the storage facility, according to the prosecutor.

Of his then-missing wife, Veloz told his aunt that he wanted to get his wife's benefits through the U.S. Postal Service, where she was a longtime employee, McKinney told jurors.

"He's a cold, calculated killer," the prosecutor said last week, calling the evidence against the defendant "extremely powerful."

Defense attorney Justine Esack countered that jurors should acquit her client.

"I am not here to tell you that he is a man of good character," she said, noting that the jury had heard "appalling things" Veloz said after his wife's death.

Those statements didn't "prove what his state of mind was when Sandra died in that hallway," the defense attorney told the panel.

"They chose to say that this was intentional," Esack said. "They chose to ignore the injuries to him. They chose to ignore the dynamics of this relationship."

Veloz's attorney alleged that the woman's two adult daughters -- who both work in law enforcement -- had a hand in trying to guide the case, and that it affected how law enforcement looked at the case.

But she argued that the prosecution had failed to prove the elements of murder.

One of the victim's daughters, Melissa Navarro, told the judge that the only mistake her mother made was "trusting this man" who "ultimately took her life."

"You are despicable and a burden upon society," she told the defendant, saying she hopes he will be haunted by his actions.

Another of the victim's daughters, Maria Navarro, said Veloz had "brutally murdered my innocent, unsuspecting mother and tortured her lifeless body."

A sister of the defendant also spoke in court, telling her brother, "I love you immensely and that will never change."

"I love you," Veloz responded, again repeating the comment as he was led out of the downtown Los Angeles courtroom after being sentenced.