Murder suspect's fate in hands of jury
The fate of a Medford man who has been tried three times for murder is now in the hands of a Jackson County Circuit Court jury.
Two previous trials for Jose Valencia-Gaona, 47, ended in mistrials. In the first, court officials mistakenly gave a list of witnesses to jurors. In the second, a witness identified Valencia-Gaona to the jury after being instructed not to do so.
The judge who presided over the first trial, Adam Peterson, was later unseated after former prosecutor David Hoppe made the mistrial a cornerstone of his successful campaign against Peterson.
Valencia-Gaona is accused of stabbing his ex-girlfriend Maria Rodriguez, 38, to death at her apartment on Table Rock Road in Medford on Sept. 1, 2013. He also faces a count of attempted second-degree assault for allegedly slashing with a knife at a neighbor who was a witness.
Valencia-Gaona's third trial began on Dec. 7. The prosecution and defense delivered closing arguments this morning.
Valencia-Gaona had worked as a butcher at Fiesta Market & Restaurant on North Riverside Avenue in Medford. The restaurant has a market and butcher shop.
Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Virginia Greer said Valencia-Gaona killed Rodriguez by stabbing her four times in her vital organs.
"He's a butcher," Greer told jurors. "He knows his way around a knife."
Neighbors said they saw a Hispanic man at the scene of the 2013 attack. The man walked quickly away and tossed something. Police later found a knife, according to court testimony.
The knife handle had Valencia-Gaona's DNA on it and the blade had the DNA of the victim, Greer said.
"This is the weapon she was killed with," Greer said.
A bike was found concealed near bushes. It had been blue but was painted black. Valencia-Gaona's fingerprint was preserved in the paint, according to the prosecution.
Before Rodriguez was killed, Valencia-Gaona tried to contact her more than a dozen times via cellphone in a short period of time. He was distraught because they had had a nasty breakup and she was dating again, Greer said.
"He was extremely jealous of Maria," Greer said.
In a Spanish text sent before the attack, Valencia-Gaona told Rodriguez he would see her in hell, Greer said.
A phone that had been used by Valencia-Gaona was found broken and discarded under a bush by a Wendy's drive-thru window near the Table Rock Road apartments where Rodriguez lived, Greer said.
After the murder, Valencia-Gaona went to Fiesta Market & Restaurant and said his mother had died or was ill in Mexico. He asked to receive his last paycheck in cash and then left, Greer said.
Valencia-Gaona also told his brother he had done something bad and needed to leave town, she said.
After receiving a tip, police arrested Valencia-Gaona near railroad tracks running through central Medford. He kept repeating, "I'm sorry" in English, Greer said.
Valencia-Gaona has been lodged in the Jackson County Jail on no bail since Sept. 4, 2013, jail records show.
Defense attorney Christopher Missiaen argued Valencia-Gaona was not confessing with the apology during his arrest, but didn't understand the American criminal justice system and was trying to be compliant and avoid trouble with police.
Missiaen implied the crime scene could have become contaminated as paramedics, police officers, detectives and others responded to the Table Rock Road apartments.
"Some people are wearing protective booties and gloves. Some are not," Missiaen said.
He said DNA from at least three people was found on the knife handle.
"For every piece of evidence, there are other possible explanations," Missiaen said.
He also pointed to conflicting testimony from witnesses, who described the suspect's shirt, pants and hair in different ways.
While Valencia-Gaona has black hair and is in his 40s, one witness reported seeing a man with thick white hair who was in his 50s, Missiaen said.
"Mr. Valencia-Gaona is not guilty and that is the only just result in this case," Missiaen told jurors during closing arguments.
Missiaen said police and the Jackson County District Attorney's Office focused too early on Valencia-Gaona as the suspect and did not check out information on other possible suspects, including a man in a romantic relationship with Rodriguez who visited the crime scene, left and was later contacted by police on Sept. 20.
"He never reached out to police," Missiaen said of the alternate suspect.
Greer said investigators and experts who examined evidence at crime laboratories did their jobs correctly and in an unbiased way.
She said Valencia-Gaona purposefully killed Rodriguez and knew what areas of the body to target with the knife.
"A woman's life was taken in a violent way," Greer said.