EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 23, 2013

Killer awaiting trial in Andover rape case transferred from Middleton

By Jill Harmacinski

---- — ANDOVER — A twice convicted murderer awaiting trial in a 25-year-old Andover case was transferred from the county jail in Middleton to a maximum security state prison due to behavioral issues, Sheriff Frank Cousins confirmed yesterday.

Valentine Underwood was extradited from California prison to Essex County in May 2011 to be prosecuted for the aggravated rape and kidnapping of a woman on River Road in Andover in 1988.

Underwood, who was convicted of killing two young women in California, was held in solitary confinement for two years at Middleton Jail. Cousins said Underwood was recently transferred to MCI Cedar Junction because “he was starting to get a little agitated.”

Cedar Junction is better suited to handle Underwood, who was subject to 23 hours in solitary lockdown at Middleton Jail, Cousins said.

Underwood is considered so dangerous, any time he came out of his cell — to exercise, walk around in the jail yard or go to the library — the movement of inmates in the rest of Middleton Jail was restricted. Underwood is a 6-foot, 9-inch former military basketball star.

“He was held in a segregation unit for over two years. He was heading towards a disciplinary problem. A change of scenery will do him well,” Cousins said.

In related news, a superior court judge recently ruled that in September, when he returns to court, Underwood may personally argue his motion to dismiss, although he is represented by defense attorney Joseph Collins.

Underwood is trying to get the Andover indictments dismissed, saying Essex County Grand Jury members were told he was previously convicted of rape. He claims he was not. Also, the aggravated rape law he is charged under did not exist in 1988 when the alleged offense occurred — another reason Underwood wants the charges dismissed.

The maximum sentences for both aggravated rape and kidnapping are 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 Constitutional 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. He’s also fired several court-appointed attorneys. Collins is the latest to defend him.

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 repeatedly 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 Good Samaritan drove her to Exeter Hospital, where she underwent surgery and samples were taken from her body for a rape evidence kit.

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.

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