EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 5, 2013

Trial date looms in Andover cold-case kidnap, rape

By Jill Harmacinski
jharmacinski@eagletribune.com

---- — SALEM, Mass. — A trial date for a twice convicted California murderer charged in a 25-year-old Andover rape and kidnapping case could be set later this month.

Currently serving double life sentences, Valentine Underwood, 52, was extradited 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 has spent 28 months in Massachusetts custody, first at the county jail in Middleton and now at MCI Cedar Junction to where he was transferred earlier this summer.

Yesterday, Underwood was scheduled to appear in Salem Superior Court to personally argue a motion to dismiss he filed in the rape case, but instead he refused to come out of his cell for transport and citing medical complaints.

In response, Judge John Lu scheduled a Sept. 17 court date, where Underwood will be allowed to argue his motion by video teleconferencing from MCI Cedar Junction to the Superior Court courtroom. A trial date will also be set on Sept. 17, Lu said.

Underwood has fired several of his court appointed attorneys. Most recently, he asked to represent himself with defense attorney Joseph Collins as standby council.

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.

Aggravated rape and kidnapping convictions both carry penalties of life in prison.

Collins also said yesterday Underwood, who is 6 feet, 6 inches tall and weighs 290 pounds, has complained of swelling in his ankles. Also, when he’s handcuffed for transport to court, Underwood experiences pain in his shoulders and elbows, Collins said.

At Middleton Jail, Underwood was considered so dangerous that Sheriff Frank Cousins said MCI Cedar Junction was better suited to handle him.

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.