Bring Me The Head of Johnny Valdez

“Could you repeat that, dispatch? The transmission must be garbled. It sounded like you said there was a home invasion on Laws Avenue…Over?”

“Roger that, Laws Avenue. Please respond Code Three, suspects armed and considered dangerous. Over.”

”Dispatch, I’m gonna change frequencies; I feel like I’m tuned into America’s Dumbest Criminals Channel. Over.”

Misnamed Laws Avenue is the roughest ‘hood in Ukiah, if not the whole county. The low-income apartments between State Street and Dora, a number of them owned by former DA Susan Massini, are the lair of some of our fiercest denizens of the underclass, and good little boys and girls don’t go down there to play at four in the morning on April Fool’s Day unless they’ve been watching too much “Walking Dead” on zombie TV, or smoking meth and drinking vodka in suicidal quantities.

France
France

So it was no surprise that the court didn’t take seriously defendant Michael France’s defense that the guy he’s accused of stabbing, Johnny Valdez, came to Laws Avenue at approximately 4am to pull off a home invasion robbery for three pounds of marijuana.

However absurd it sounded, Mr. France’s lawyer, Patricia Littlefield, practically had France off the hook simply by blowing holes in the Nutter-Butter stories the alleged victim told — three different stories, all of them wildly different.

Mr. Valdez first said he was walking behind Chavez Market when somebody came up behind him and hit him over the head with a crowbar. Then he changed the site of the crowbar attack to the middle of the street on Laws Avenue; finally, he said he got stabbed in one of the apartments.

Rapunzel, they call her at the jail, and not just because of her spectacularly long hair, but also because she can bail your butt out of some very serious charges, like attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon resulting in great bodily harm. Three strikes and you’re out charges. Patricia “Rapunzel” Littlefield of the Alternate Public Defender’s Office, let down your long hair and pull me outta here!

As Littlefield grilled the investigating officer, Detective Steve Gray of the Sheriff’s Office on why he never questioned the alleged victim on the inconsistencies of his narrative, it started to look like Mr. France was being framed, a handy scapegoat to take the fall for the guy who actually committed the crime.

Littlefield: “He (Valdez) first told you he was hit over the head, from behind, with a crowbar?”

Detective Gray: “Yes, that’s right.”

“He told you this the first time you interviewed him, at the hospital?”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“Well, did he have any injury to his head? Any bandages or anything?”

“No, none.”

“And he told you this happened while he was at or behind Chavez Market?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Then he changed his story and said it happened on Laws Avenue?”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“Did you ask him why he changed his story?”

“No. I don’t believe I did.”

“Did he offer any explanation why he changed it?”

“No, I didn’t ask.”

“What was his condition?”

“He was in pain, still in the hospital bed.”

“Was his mother there?”

“Yes.”

“And you talked to her?”

“Yes.”

“He said he’d been drinking vodka at the Laws Avenue apartment. Was he still intoxicated?”

“I don’t recall if that was the case.”

“He faced you directly?”

“A little to the side, but yes.”

“Was he calm?”

“Yes.”

“Thoughtful?”

“Yes.”

“Not confused?”

“Yes.”

“Did he say there was a Mexican individual there when he got stabbed?”

“I believe he asked the Mexican gentleman for help, but this person didn’t wish to provide any help.”

“So he first stated he was hit from behind, knocked to the ground, and that’s when he was stabbed?”

“May I refer to my notes?”

“Go ahead.”

"He said he was knocked to the ground, then his sweatshirt was pulled off and then that’s when he noticed he was stabbed.”

“But there was nothing in the medical reports about an injury to the head?”

“No.”

“He told you he didn’t know who stabbed him?”

“He said it was one or two individuals.”

“He said the guy had teardrops tattooed by his eyes?”

“Yes.”

“When did he have an opportunity to see these things?”

“I didn’t ask.”

“He said the guy ran off?”

“Yes.”

“But he said he saw the knife?”

“Yes.”

“A five-inch knife?”

“Yes.”

“And he described it as a kitchen knife?”

“Yes.”

“Did he know if the blade was serrated?”

“I don’t believe he knew.”

“So he realized he was stabbed when the sweatshirt was pulled off?”

“Yes.”

“And he told you in the third interview that he pulled it off?”

“I believe so, yes.”

“And he wouldn’t tell you who the girl was that he’d gone there to see?”

“He wouldn’t tell us, no.”

“Didn’t he also tell you he didn’t know anyone on Laws Avenue?”

“Off and on, he said that, yes.”

“At some point, he said this all happened near an alleyway, didn’t he?”

“I believe so, yes.”

“And that was in a subsequent interview?”

“Yes.”

“Did he tell you his iPhone had been taken?”

“At one time, yes. Then on the third interview, he said no-no, it hadn’t.

“But by then you knew that he’d gone to Thea’s apartment on Laws to score some meth?”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“He also said he drank a fifth of vodka?”

“That’s sounds reasonable, yes.”

“With Thea?”

“Yes.”

Any reason why he didn’t bother to tell you at this time that Mike France was in the apartment — the guy he accused of stabbing him?”

“I don’t recall him saying it like that, no.”

“Then he said this happened down by the Fire Station — remember that?”

“Yes.”

“So each time he changed the location where all this happened, did you ask about the crowbar?”

“I didn’t go into details on that, no.”

“So, he was talking to Thea, right?”

“Yes. I believe he went there to drink.”

“And score some meth?”

“That came out later, but yes.”

“Recall him telling you he never made it to Thea’s door?”

“Yes.”

“Then he said it happened when he was leaving?”

“Yes.”

“So he changed his statements a few times?”

“Yes.”

“So when he’s telling all these different things, did you ask about the crowbar?”

“He only mentioned the crowbar the first time.”

“Did he mention that he had an Aunt Shelly Hernandez on Laws Avenue?”

“He could have, I don’t recall.”

“And also he said he didn’t know anyone on Laws?”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“But then you found out he knew Thea?”

“Yes, in successive interviews, it came out.”

“Also in subsequent interviews, he said somebody named James and somebody else named Mike were at the apartment as well?”

“Yes, that’s fair to say.”

“What were they doing?”

“I believe he said James was lying on the couch and Mike and Nona were in the bathroom.”

“Where was Thea and Mr. Valdez?”

“They were in Thea’s bedroom, drinking the vodka.”

“Did he tell you how he knew Mike and Mona were in the bathroom?”

“I don’t believe he did.”

“Did he say why he left — how he came to leave?”

“No.”

“Did he say Thea kicked him out?”

“I don’t recall that, no.”

“So, he first said it happened at Chavez Market, then out on the street, and finally at Thea’s apartment. Did you ask why he had told all these different stories?”

“I don’t believe I did, no.”

“This happened around 4am?”

“Yes.”

“So it must have been still dark — did you determine what the lighting situation in the area was like?”

“I don’t believe I did, no.”

“Did you ask how long he had to look at his attacker?”

“I don’t believe I did.”

“At the hospital, he said his attacker didn’t yell at him?”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“And he was released the next day from the hospital?”

“I don’t know that.”

“When did you do the subsequent interviews at his house?”

“On April 3rd and April 4th.”

“So he could have been released the next day, April 2nd?”

“Yes.”

“And he had two stab wounds?”

“Yes.”

“One in the back?”

“Yes.”

“And one in the chest?”

“Yes.”

“Were the wounds straight on or from the side?”

“They were straight on, the doctor said.”

“Could the doctor tell what kind of knife was used?”

“I didn’t ask.”

“And there was a cracked or broken rib?”

“Yes.”

“Did you ask if a rib could get cracked from a fall to the ground?”

“No.”

“When you saw Mr. France, you photographed his hands?”

“Yes, and there was a cut mark on one hand, a couple days old, at the base of his thumb.”

“And you showed Mr. Valdez some knives from Mr. France’s things — which one did he pick out?”

“He couldn’t say which one it was.”

“But there were no kitchen knives?”

“I don’t recall there being a kitchen knife specifically.”

“Did France tell you Valdez had gone to Thea’s apartment to rob her of three pounds of marijuana, and that he got caught and a fight broke out?”

“I believe that’s what he said, yes.”

“Did you ask Valdez if he was pretty drunk from the fifth of vodka?”

“No, I don’t recall that.”

“But you had information that he was in the apartment when the stabbing took place?”

“Not at that time, I didn’t.”

“So he actually had you guys on the wrong track for a while?”

“I guess you could say that.”

“Did Valdez admit to using meth?”

“I don’t recall that he did.”

“Did he say there was an agreement between him and Thea when he decided to leave?”

“I don’t believe he said anything like that.”

“And he never said why he decided to leave?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Did he take the sweatshirt with him?”

“He didn’t have it at the hospital.”

“But he called Thea and said he left something there?”

“Yes.”

Deputy DA Jon Hopkins said, “Johnny Valdez said he went to Laws to score some meth, didn’t he?”

“Yes,” Detective Gray said.

“But he wouldn’t tell you the name of who he went to see?”

“He said if he did, it would come back on him.”

Littlefield said, “But his mother denied that he was sexually involved with Thea when you spoke to her at the hospital, didn’t she?’

Gray said, “I didn’t know that name at the time, though.”

Detective Louis Espinoza was called and all traces of innocence on the part of Michael France soon evaporated. If there had been any doubt that France stabbed Valdez, France’s boastful text messages to Carly Simpson put an end to it.

Detective Espinoza said he found about 20 spots of blood on the sidewalk outside of Thea’s apartment, and in the entranceway, and it was still there the next day even though it had rained. The incriminating text messages began about 7:39 on April 1st:

Mike France's text to Carly Simpson: “Hey sis wake up and good morning. I love your life. I need numbers for Mona and James ASAP. Wake up now Carly. It’s a high alert emergency. No Doubt.”

Carly Simpson: “Who the fuck is this?”

Mike France: “It’s Carly’s Baby’s Daddy.”

Carly Simpson: “What the fuck is up? Why you wake me up?”

Mike France: “Yeah motherfucker I just whacked somebody and I’m hungry for more. I brought my Savage .300 rifle and Ruger Blackhawk.”

Carly Simpson: “? ?”

Mike France: “I think I killed a man last night.”

Carly Simpson: “Why you bringing trouble to my house with all these kids here? Where are you?”

Mike France: “I’m not bringing anything to you or your kids. It was a home invasion on my sister’s house.”

Carly Simpson: “Where are you?”

Mike France: “No, only the dude got it right thru the heart. Nobody did anything illegal except the guy who got it thru the heart.”

Carly Simpson: “Where are you?”

Mike France: “I’m pumped up on adrenalin right now. Do not tell anyone I’m here. I took a Greyhound to Florida…”

The hearing had to be cut short, because Particia Littlefield had to go rescue another indigent criminal in another department.

But Mike France hadn’t gone to Florida on a Greyhound, although he probably should have, and he should never have put those confessions on his cell phone. The victim, Johnny Valdez’s story was so flakey, France never would have got caught otherwise. But the need for young people to put down on a smart phone every thought that enters their heads is more than they seem to be able to control.

This case will proceed in the coming weeks, and it will end with Mike France in a prison cell wondering why he didn’t throw away his new iPhone the day he got it.

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