SALEM, Mass. — Defense attorneys for a twice-convicted murderer charged in a 23-year-old Andover rape and kidnapping case want to know why their client, Valentine Underwood, should be under heavy security and restraint when he goes to court.
Attorneys Christopher Skinner and Christopher Norris said Eagle-Tribune photos taken of Underwood and corrections officers bringing him to his arraignment have obliterated his chances of finding an impartial jury in Essex County.
The attorneys, who work for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, filed a motion yesterday asking the Essex County Sheriff's Department and District Attorney's Office to explain why Underwood, 49, "should be treated differently from any other defendant in custody while appearing before this court."
Judge Robert Cornetta took no action on the motion yesterday. Underwood was excused yesterday from a pre-trial conference in the 1988 rape and kidnapping case. He remains held in solitary confinement at the county jail in Middleton.
Underwood, a 6-foot, 9-inch former Marine and military basketball star, is currently sentenced to two life sentences in California's Pelican Bay State Prison. He was brought to Essex County last month, through a special arrangement made by prosecutors, to face charges from a 1988 kidnapping and repeated rape of a woman in Andover.
Underwood was recently linked to the old case using the national DNA database which match his genetic material taken from the victim of the May 20, 1988 Andover rape and kidnapping.
Underwood, who has a history of escape attempts, is affiliated with the New Black Panthers, a black political and supremacy group, and the Black Prisoners Association in California, according to law enforcment and corrections sources.
Last month, when Underwood went to Salem Superior Court, "he was brought into court surrounded by a phalanx" of correctional officers and "an arraignment was attempted even before the lawyer to be assigned had met him," wrote Skinner, of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, in the motion.
That day defense attorney Christopher Norris met briefly with Underwood, although corrections officers also attended the meeting.
During the arraignment in open court, Underwood was shackled and handcuffed and "in the grasp of a sheriff's department employee," Skinner wrote in the motion.
Skinner also included Eagle-Tribune photos taken inside and outside Underwood's visit to the Federal Street courthouse.
Underwood's attorneys want a court hearing "to determine if there are any factual bases for any unusual security arrangements in the courtroom. The goal of such hearing is to assure that Mr. Underwood is treatment fairly in a public forum of this courtroom during his appearances in this case."
Skinner wrote that Underwood fears "there are no such legitimate reasons and that he has been the victim of misleading innuendo and unsubstantiated claims."
He also said the "highly publicized photographs" in the Eagle-Tribune "have done irremediable harm to Mr. Underwood's chances of ever receiving an impartial jury in this county."
Underwood's next court appearance is scheduled for July 11.
In California, he is serving two life sentences for the August 1991 rapes and murders of Mandi Scott, 15, and Rosalie Ortega, 20. He crimes are chronicled in the book "Twentynine Palms: A True Story of Murder, Marines and the Mojave," by Deanne Stillman.
Underwood's criminal ties to the Merrimack Valley and southern New Hampshire remained secret until very recently when local detectives matched his DNA to the samples taken from the Andover victim in 1988.
Then, the 24-year-old woman was driving home to Lowell on River Road in Andover when Underwood is accused of forcing her car off the road, punching her in the face and ordering her at knifepoint into his truck.
The woman was repeatedly beaten and sexually assaulted as Underwood allegedly drove north and into Hampton, N.H. Just past the toll booth on Interstate 95, Underwood pulled off the highway and stabbed the woman in the liver. The blade on his knife broke off, preventing him from slitting her throat, prosecutor Kate MacDougall said previously.
Before fleeing, Underwood is accused of dumping the woman in a watery ditch. A Good Samaritan later stopped and helped the woman after she managed to drag herself back near the highway.
The woman plans to testify against Underwood at trial.
The maximum sentences for aggravated rape and aggravated kidnapping are both life in prison.
While in solitary confinement at Middleton Jail, Underwood is only allowed out of his cell for an hour daily to briefly exercise and shower. He eats all of his meals alone in his cell, Sheriff Frank Cousins said.
To date, Underwood has been "well behaved" and "followed all the rules" at Middleton, Cousins said.
Underwood's trial must be held before Sept. 22, under the terms of the agreement between California and Essex County.
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