Jury finds Medford man guilty of murdering former girlfriend

Article author: 
Vickie Aldous
Article publisher: 
Mail Tribune
Article date: 
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Article category: 
Article Body: 

A jury has found butcher Jose Valencia-Gaona, 47, guilty of murder for stabbing his ex-girlfriend to death at her apartment on Table Rock Road in Medford.

The trial that began on Dec. 7 and ended Tuesday was Valencia-Gaona's third trial for the Sept. 1, 2013, murder.

His first trial was declared a mistrial after court officials accidentally gave jurors a list of witnesses who would testify. His second trial also ended in a mistrial after a witness identified Valencia-Gaona to the jury after being instructed not to do so.

This time, the jury found Valencia-Gaona, now 47, guilty of murdering Maria Rodriguez, who was 38 at the time of her death. Jurors also found him guilty of attempted second-degree assault for swinging a knife at a neighbor at the time of the attack on Rodriguez.

Rodriguez's son, 20-year-old Miguel McClellan, said he was glad the case was finally over.

It took a very long time. It shouldn't have stretched out so long," he said, but added that he was grateful to investigators and prosecutors.

"They did a great job. They stuck with it," McClellan said. "I'm very glad they stuck with it so long."

Family members plan to wear memorial T-shirts expressing their love for Rodriguez when Valencia-Gaona is sentenced Thursday afternoon. She is survived by a daughter as well as her son.

Valencia-Gaona, who had no prior criminal history, faces 25 years to life on the murder charge, said Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Virginia Greer.

"Having closure to the case is important, especially to the family," Greer said. "They have been here for every single trial and have endured the mistrials."

The prosecution and defense made closing arguments Tuesday morning. Jurors returned the guilty verdicts in the afternoon.

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.

Greer said Valencia-Gaona killed Rodriguez by stabbing her four times in her vital organs.

"He's a butcher," Greer told jurors during closing arguments. "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 cell phone in a short period of time. He was distraught because they had had a nasty break-up 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 broken, discarded phone that had been used by Valencia-Gaona was found 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.

NOTE:  Jose Valencia-Gaona - ICE HOLD