EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 18, 2013

Calif. killer awaiting trial in 1988 Andover rape case armed himself at Middleton Jail

By Jill Harmacinski
jharmacinski@eagletribune.com

---- — SALEM, Mass. — Twice convicted killer Valentine Underwood was transferred from the county jail to a state prison after he used pieces of broken mirror as knives and taped them to his hands, a prosecutor said yesterday.

Underwood was extradited from California, where he’s serving double life sentences, to Massachusetts in May 2011 to face trial for the 1988 kidnapping and rape of a woman on River Road in Andover. He was held for more than two years in a segregation unit at the county jail in Middleton before has transferred recently to MCI Cedar Junction — a maximum security state prison.

The 52-year-old former Marine basketball star is representing himself in the 25-year-old Andover case. Underwood is now scheduled to go to trial on Feb. 3. Attorney Joseph Collins will serve as Underwood’s standby defense counsel.

During a Superior Court appearance yesterday, where Underwood’s security measures were discussed, prosecutor Kate MacDougall said Underwood had been involved in a “standoff in Middleton” and had other disciplinary issues.

At Middleton Jail, MacDougall said a “recent incident” involved Underwood arming himself with two knives made out of a broken mirror that he taped to each hand. Underwood is 6 feet, 6 inches tall and weighs 290 pounds.

Underwood, handcuffed, dressed in red prison scrubs and sitting at the defense table in the courtroom yesterday, was surrounded by five Essex County Correctional Officers and several trial court officers.

In response to MacDougall’s description of the Middleton incident, Underwood said, “I was wrong.” Then, later in his commentary before Judge John Lu, Underwood denied having a knife.

“I am a Muslim your honor. I don’t have a problem with authority,” he said.

He said for “two years I was housed in the hole” at the Middleton Jail. While he was there for a long stretch, he said “kids” that came to the jail were only placed there for 30 days. Others in segregation were noisy while Underwood said “all I do is read and exercise.”

“For two years I sat there ... I didn’t have a luxury of leaving in 30 days,” Underwood, who speaks with somewhat of a southern accent, told Lu. Underwood is originally from the Washington, D.C. area.

Underwood said he’d previously asked why he was being held in a county jail and not a state prison.

“When I finally did something stupid ... I get put in the state prison system,” said Underwood, adding he’s been wrongly portrayed a Black Nationalist and a convicted rapist in the media.

Underwood was convicted of killing two young women in California in 1991.

“I know how to be respectful. Most correction officers would tell you I know I how to be respectful,” Underwood said.

Despite strong warnings, Underwood is being allowed to defend himself at trial. In response to questioning from Lu, Underwood said he has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and earned Cs and Bs as grades.

Lu spoke frankly to him yesterday, saying “the idea of representing yourself is a terrible idea.” He added that even an experienced trial lawyer shouldn’t represent himself in court and strongly advised Underwood against doing so.

“How do you feel about that?” Lu then asked.

“I’d like to represent myself,” replied Underwood, without hesitation.

Underwood was also in court yesterday to argue a motion to dismiss. He claimed grand jurors who handed down indictments against him were told he was previously convicted of rape. He said he was not.

“I have a right to an unbiased grand jury,” said Underwood, after a lengthy and somewhat scattered legal argument to Lu.

MacDougall fired back that grand jurors were never told Underwood was convicted of rape. She added all of the evidence presented to grand jurors was “carefully sanitized.”

“There was more than ample probable cause for the indictments,” MacDougall said.

Lu did not issue any ruling on the motion to dismiss yesterday.

Underwood initially came into the courtroom with both hands shackled to a black box and chain around his waist. He asked Lu if one of his hands could be freed so he could sift through legal paperwork. However, after a discussion with Anthony Turco Jr., a sheriff’s department supervisor in the courtroom, it was decided Underwood would remain handcuffed but his cuffs would be removed from the waist chain and black box while he was in the courtroom.

“I would strongly urge your honor to leave handcuffs on both hands,” Turco said.

The charge of aggravated rape carries a penalty of life in prison.

In May 2011, when Underwood was initially arraigned, his trial was supposed to be held before Sept. 22, 2011, under the terms of an interstate agreement reached between California and Essex County.

But, under the state rule concerning his right to a speedy trial, the time between court appearances can be excluded if the delay is caused or requested by the defense. This allowed Underwood to stay in the state longer.

Underwood was convicted on Dec. 19, 1997, in California for the first degree murders of Mandi Scott, 15, and Rosalie Ortega, 20, in August 1991.

His alleged ties to the Merrimack Valley and southern New Hampshire remained secret until 2011 when local detectives, using a national DNA database, matched genetic materials to samples taken from the Andover victim on May 20, 1988.

The then 24-year-old woman was driving home to Lowell on River Road in Andover when Underwood allegedly forced her car off the road, punched her in the face and ordered her at knifepoint into his truck. The woman was beaten and sexually assaulted as Underwood allegedly drove north and into southern New Hampshire. Just past the toll booths in Hampton, Underwood is accused of driving off the highway and stabbing the woman in the abdomen. The blade on his knife broke off.

Before fleeing, Underwood allegedly dumped the woman in a watery ditch. A Good Samaritan stopped and helped the woman after she managed to drag herself back near the highway.

The case was resurrected in 2009 when Andover police retrieved the woman’s rape kit from the Hampton Police Department. The samples were submitted to the Massachusetts State Police crime lab, where the DNA was submitted to the Combined Offender DNA Index System, a national database referred to by law enforcement as CODIS.

The samples matched Underwood’s DNA in the system.

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Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.