MERCER – Antonio Velazquez Rupert will spend at least 35 years in prison for the murder of a Masury woman.
President Judge Robert G. Yeatts sentenced Velazquez Rupert, 37, of Sharpsville, to 35 to 70 years in state prison in connection with the December 2016 death of Amanda Downs, 28.
Yeatts stuck to the plea agreement made between Mercer County District Attorney Peter Acker and the defense. Velazquez Rupert’s sentences will be served consecutively. The charges and time to be served include third-degree murder, 20 to 40 years; kidnapping, 10 to 20 years; theft of a motor vehicle, 2½ to 5 years; and access-device fraud, 2½ to 5 years. He will receive credit for 825 days already served in Mercer County Jail.
As part of his plea agreement, Velazquez Rupert was required to admit to his crime. During a hearing last week, he said that he hit Downs once or twice in the head with a dumbbell in his Sharpsville apartment that night because he was angry. He also admitted to kidnapping the couple’s then-8-month-old daughter, stealing Downs’ car and using her bank card on Dec. 30 and 31, Acker said.
But during his sentencing hearing, Velazquez Rupert wasn’t talking.
Yeatts gave him two chances to speak in front of Downs’ family, and he declined to say a word.
However, a man identified as Downs’ brother said in court that he was not happy with the plea deal. He said that he was never consulted about the arrangement.
Acker said the family was consulted and expressed their satisfaction with the deal.
“It’s a resolution to a case that needed resolved one way or another,” the DA said after the hearing. “I made the decision. It’s my job.”
Acker cited several reasons for not taking the charge of first degree murder to trial, which, if he had been convicted, would have landed Velazquez Rupert in prison for life without the possibility of parole.
“I stopped predicting what juries are going to do years ago,” Acker said. “But an issue with a jury could be that (Downs) voluntarily went back to the defendant despite the history of abuse, and she knew what his propensities were.”
Acker said “if push had come to shove,” the prosecution had a good chance of conviction, but he had other concerns with presenting the case to a jury.
“This would’ve been potentially a two-week trial, and you never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “He also consumed a fair amount of drugs and with first degree (murder) you have to worry about the voluntary intoxication defense and you have to worry about did he premeditate or did he snap. A jury could believe he didn’t premeditate then you could end up with voluntary manslaughter.”
Also with the plea, Acker said it takes away Velazquez Rupert’s chance to appeal or to make any other post-conviction motions.
“So it’s most likely he will spend the rest of his life in jail,” Acker said.
Family members also blamed Mercer County authorities for Downs’ death because of his alleged history of violence against her.
At the time of the murder, Velazquez Rupert was facing an additional assault charge in Sharon and had served time in an Ohio prison in 2016 for assaulting Downs, according to court records.
Downs sought two protection orders against Velazquez Rupert in Trumbull County in 2016, but then failed to attend the hearings, which allowed the short-term orders to expire.
In her statements to authorities, Downs quoted threats she said Velazquez Rupert made and expressed her own fears that he would follow through.
Local investigators said in January 2017, during former Mercer County District Attorney Miles Karson’s tenure, that they were looking at those records in preparing their case against Velazquez Rupert.
“We have to look at the pattern of behavior between them,” Karson said at the time. “She was obviously afraid of him, and they had some history.”
Downs and Velazquez Rupert were living together on Edmond Street in Masury on Oct. 24, 2015, when Downs called Brookfield police. Velazquez Rupert had become angry over a Facebook post and “as soon as he entered he hit me on the right side of the face,” Downs said in her written statement to police.
Downs went looking for her phone. He followed her and hit her again while she was holding her then-2-year-old daughter, she stated.
Velazquez Rupert kept Downs and the girl, who was not his daughter, confined to a bathroom, Downs said. He told her she could not leave and that he would hit her in the stomach if she tried, she said in the statement. He knew she was three months’ pregnant with his child, she added.
“I’m scared to go home, of my safety and daughter/baby inside me,” she wrote. “He threatened to bury me.”
A protection order was issued three days later.
A grand jury indicted Velazquez Rupert on a charge of domestic violence. He pleaded guilty April 18, 2016, admitting he caused or attempted to cause harm to Downs knowing she was pregnant.
As part of the plea, he agreed to a six-month prison sentence, but he did not stay locked up long.
On June 2, 2016, Sharon police were called to the 200 block of Orchard Street, where one of Downs’ relatives lives.
Velazquez Rupert showed up and argued with Downs, accusing her of having a man in the house with her, police said.
The relative heard what she thought sounded like someone being hit and called 911, then the relative found Downs on the floor convulsing, according to the police report.
Downs did not remember what happened, but Sharon police alleged Velazquez Rupert hit her and she lost consciousness when her head hit the floor. Downs was treated at a hospital for a concussion.
Sharon police charged Velazquez Rupert with simple assault, but that case was dropped after Downs was murdered because Karson said prosecutors wanted to focus on the murder case, and the information from the Sharon case would be incorporated in the homicide case.
Fifteen days after the alleged Sharon incident, Downs filed a petition for a protection order in Trumbull County, Ohio.
Her narrative included the 2015 incident and the June 2, 2016, Sharon incident. She also described how Velazquez Rupert had stalked her by sitting outside her home, riding past it and calling and emailing her.
He “kept saying I got something coming to me,” she stated. She said she feared for the safety of herself and her daughter.
“He told me he would hide in my car when I left work and shoot me in the back of the head,” Downs wrote.
She said she took his threats seriously because “his record shows a repeated history of violence.”
A rap sheet included in Velazquez Rupert’s Trumbull County criminal file shows eight Berks County convictions for simple assault, drug possession, retail theft and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Downs’ newest petition was dismissed July 26, 2016, when she failed to show up for trial, and a temporary protection order expired four days later.
Downs filed a new petition Oct. 6, 2016, based on the same narrative and documentation, and it was dismissed Oct. 27. The temporary petition expired Nov. 20, 2016.
On Dec. 31, 2016, a statewide Amber child-abduction alert was issued in the early afternoon. Police had discovered that Downs’ baby was missing from the apartment where her body was found that morning.
Three young children had been in the apartment overnight, one of whom told police that Velazquez Rupert was there the night before, argued with Downs and had left in a rush with the baby, police said.
Velazquez Rupert was found with the baby within 40 minutes of the alert about 300 miles east in Reading, police said. He was arrested there and extradited to Mercer County, where he has been lodged in the county jail. The baby was unharmed.
At Friday’s sentencing hearing, Yeatts said he considered all of the reports in Velazquez Rupert’s file as well as victim impact statements from the family, which he “really takes to heart,” in making his decision.
“What we all want is to be able to turn back the clock 10 minutes before the murder occurred, and we want to bring Amanda back, but that’s not possible,” the judge said.
“The likelihood of his getting out are slim,” Acker said. “I understand the brother being mad, but ultimately it was a tough decision that had to be made, but I think it was the right thing. Judge Yeatts had to agree. He was involved in the plea talks, and he thought it was an appropriate sentence.”