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Attempted-murder trial hinges on IDs and DNA

The defense attorney for a Medford man charged with attempted murder in a gang-related 2013 stabbing attempted Tuesday in Jackson County Circuit Court to poke holes in witnesses' identification of his client as the suspect.

Prosecutors, however, said DNA evidence would connect the defendant, Adan Manuel Valdez, to the crime. Deputy District Attorney Virginia Greer told jurors during opening arguments in Valdez's trial that lab testing of clothing seized from Valdez's residence put him at the scene of the May 29, 2013, stabbing of Gildardo Flores-Ramirez at a residence in the 500 block of Plum Street.

"We took certain items out to the lab for testing," Greer said, referring to a puffy coat detectives found in Valdez's bedroom closet. "The coat tested positive for the victim's blood."

Police said Valdez, a self-proclaimed Sureños gang member, chased Flores-Ramirez to the Plum Street home after mistakenly identifying him as a member of the rival Norteños gang. Police said they believed Valdez, 35, had been a victim in a gang-related menacing incident earlier that evening and was seeking revenge when he stabbed Flores-Ramirez. He was arrested June 3 and later indicted on charges of attempted murder, first-degree assault, first-degree burglary, resisting arrest and felon in possession of a restricted weapon.

Medford police Detective Kathryn Ivens testified that when the investigation led her and sheriff's Detective Tim Kennedy to Valdez's home several days after the stabbing, she quickly noticed dark circles under Valdez's eyes, which she suspected could have been black eyes from an assault during the menacing incident. Ivens testified that Valdez immediately became confrontational when she entered the home and ignored instructions that he was not free to leave, requiring multiple officers to restrain him.

Under cross examination by Valdez's lawyer, Grants Pass attorney Robert Graham, Ivens said she didn't recall Flores-Ramirez or the home's residents mentioning the dark circles during interviews. Graham's cross examinations focused heavily on a distinctive scar Valdez had on his nose at the time of his arrest, which he pointed out was conspicuously absent from witnesses' descriptions of the attacker.  He also tried to capitalize on witnesses' descriptions of a chrome-finished BMX bicycle the attacker allegedly fled the scene on, saying they didn't match a black bike found in Valdez's home.

"The case is about identity, and I want you to keep in mind what evidence identifies Mr. Valdez in this incident," Graham said in opening arguments.

Flores-Ramirez, who recently began serving an eight-year prison sentence for first-degree rape, said he had been walking home May 29 when he was confronted on the street by a man wearing a blue bandana, who asked him what gang he was with, to which Flores-Ramirez replied, "I don't gangbang."

"He had a knife," Flores-Ramirez testified. He said he got away, but the man confronted him again as he was on his way home.

"I just knew that he was going to get me," he said.  "I just knew that I had to run." 

Flores-Ramirez said he ran to the home of Richard Hunt and David Penkowski, where a friend of his had previously lived. Both Hunt and Penkowski said they were unfamiliar with Flores-Ramirez at the time of the stabbing.

"An unknown man I'd never seen before pretty much barged (into the house) between me and my friend," Hunt said, explaining that he and Penkowski had been drinking beer on the porch. Hunt said that while he was trying to get Flores-Ramirez out of the house, the man's assailant began pounding on the door.

Hunt, Penkowski and Flores-Ramirez testified that the attacker eventually kicked in the door, stabbing wildly at Flores-Ramirez.

"He got through the door and I just felt a little bit hot — a little burn in my stomach," Flores-Ramirez said, explaining that he was stabbed once in the stomach and three times in the back. "After that, I just remember running."

The jury is expected  to hear expert testimony Wednesday concerning the DNA evidence in the case.

Reach reporter Thomas Moriarty at 541-776-4471, or by email at tmoriarty@mailtribune.com. Follow him at @ThomasDMoriarty.

Adan Manuel Valdez