By Jill Harmacinski
---- — ANDOVER — Two years after he was extradited from a maximum-security California prison, where he is serving double life sentences, Valentine Underwood remains in solitary confinement at Middleton Jail, awaiting trial for the aggravated rape and kidnapping of a woman on River Road in Andover exactly 25 years ago tomorrow.
Officials consider Underwood so dangerous, the movement of inmates is restricted in the rest of the jail whenever the convicted murderer comes out of his cell. Several correctional officers are assigned just to Underwood when he comes out for an hour each to day to exercise, walk around in the jail yard or go to the library, Sheriff Frank Cousins said.
“He is not your typical inmate ... you cannot let him out with other people” Cousins said. “He’s just a big guy and he’s killed a couple of people.”
Since he was brought to Essex County in May 2011 to face the Andover charges, Underwood, a 6-foot, 9-inch former Marine and military basketball star, has blown through several court-appointed defense attorneys. He now wants to represent himself, at least as co-counsel, this week filing a motion to dismiss the indictments handed down against him by an Essex County Grand Jury.
Underwood claims grand jurors were told he was previously convicted of rape — which he said he was not. Also, the aggravated rape law he is charged under did not exist in 1988 when the alleged offense occurred. Therefore, that indictment must also be dismissed, he wrote.
Joseph Collins, Underwood’s latest defense attorney, filed the motion Wednesday in Salem Superior Court, telling Judge Lu that Underwood, who was not in court that day, wants to be “co-counsel” in his case. Lu said he was “unlikely” to agree to that.
“If he wants to represent himself, he can do that,” said Lu, before setting a hearing date on the motion to dismiss for late next month.
Collins also said Underwood doesn’t want him to file anything with the court unless he’s present. However, Underwood wrote a note allowing Collins to file the motion to dismiss on Wednesday.
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. However, 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 request by the defense. This has allowed Underwood to stay in the county longer.
At Middleton Jail, Cousins said Underwood has had visits from his mother, who travels from Virginia about every two months to see him. Cousins said he was not aware of any other visitors.
While he hasn’t created any problems at Middleton, Underwood is closely monitored due to his size, his criminal history and previous escape attempts in California. Wherever he goes, he is never in the company of other inmates — only correctional officers. “He has to be managed,” he said.
In California, Underwood was affiliated with the New Black Panthers, a black political and supremacy group, and the Black Prisoners Association in California.
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 the woman to Exeter Hospital. Her colon and small intestine area was punctured. She also had contusions on her face and bruises and abrasions on her neck, according to court papers. The woman 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.
Two years ago, the victim also identified Underwood from a New York State booking photo taken two weeks after the 1988 attack in Andover. The woman is willing to testify against Underwood at trial, prosecutors said previously.
Underwood was extradited from Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, Ca. He had already served 12 years and 10 months on the double life sentences when he arrived in Essex County. The county paid $2,041 to bring Underwood to Essex County then, according to an agreement signed by District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett and U.S. Marshal John Gibbons.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.