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Retrial begins in botched murder case that helped unseat a judge

Jury selection began Monday in the retrial of an accused murderer whose mistrial last year likely cost a newly appointed judge his seat in the November election.

The retrial of Jose Valencia-Gaona for the Sept. 1, 2013, fatal stabbing of 38-year-old Maria Guadalupe Rodriguez outside her Medford apartment comes seven months after former Jackson County Circuit Judge Adam Peterson's handling of the case became a cornerstone of former prosecutor David Hoppe's successful election campaign against Peterson.

The new case is before Judge Tim Barnack, who was hastily assigned to the case the day testimony began and declared the mistrial the following afternoon over botched jury selection and other issues that almost saw Peterson called as a witness in the proceedings.

The retrial was scheduled for six days. When not in court, Valencia-Gaona, 46, has remained held without bail in the Jackson County Jail.

Rodriguez was stabbed outside of her apartment in the 1900 block of Table Rock Road after a struggle with a man who tossed the knife away as he fled the scene.

Rodriguez stumbled into the apartment of a neighbor who witnessed part of the attack and she was pronounced dead at the scene, according to earlier testimony. The knife had DNA on the blade that matched Rodriguez and DNA on the handle matching Valencia-Gaona, according to earlier testimony.

Valencia-Gaona was arrested three days after the slaying. He faces the murder charge as well as a charge of attempted second-degree assault for waiving the knife at a witness during part of the attack, according to testimony.

The slaying occurred while Peterson was a prosecutor in the Jackson County District Attorney's Office but he was never involved in the case. He was appointed a month later to the vacated judgeship by Gov. John Kitzhaber, and Valencia-Gaona was Peterson's first murder trial as a prosecutor or judge.

When Valencia-Gaona's case was originally assigned to Peterson, that overlap of his time in the DA's office and the initial prosecution of Valencia-Gaona could have led to Peterson recusing himself from trying the case. According to court transcripts, however, Peterson had Valencia-Gaona grant him an oral waiver saying that he did not believe Peterson's presence at the prosecutor's office presented a conflict of interest.

Right before the trial and after the jury had been empaneled, Peterson said in court that he needed a daily written waiver to continue, but Valencia-Gaona declined and Peterson recused himself from the case. Barnack immediately took over, according to a recording of the proceedings.

Barnack then presided over the second day of testimony when a juror was discovered holding an old witness list that was improperly given to prospective jurors during the onset of jury selection.

The list was earlier provided by Peterson's office, but for court use only, according to transcripts.

After the discovery, defense attorney Christopher Missiaen in court called the case "a mess" and asked for a mistrial, and prosecutor Virginia Greer did not argue against it.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

 

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