A minor accused of murdering a 39-year-old woman in Big Hill with another minor last August admitted under oath in Tuolumne County Superior Court on Thursday to stabbing her in the neck with a roughly 8-inch blade while high on methamphetamine and marijuana.
The 17-year-old male was called to the witness stand by his attorney James Newkirk during a hearing to determine whether he will be tried as an adult in the case, which was scheduled to continue on Friday with testimony from a doctor who evaluated him and his probation officer.
He and the co-defendant were 16 when they were arrested on Aug. 13 in the death of Dionecia Valencia, which occurred the night before at her trailer off Calle Quartz Road. The names of both suspects are being withheld unless they are tried as adults.
Sheriff’s deputies and firefighters responded to Calle Quartz Road on the morning of Aug. 13 due to a trailer that had caught fire. Valencia’s body was discovered in an area near the burned trailer.
A woman who was sleeping in the trailer at the time it caught fire was able to escape with her life.
Both suspects have been charged on suspicion of first-degree murder, attempted murder, first-degree residential burglary and arson of an inhabited structure.
The boy who testified Thursday has been held in custody at a juvenile hall in Merced, while the other was reportedly detained at the Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility in Sonora.
A hearing to determine whether the other minor will be tried as an adult is scheduled for late July.
Valencia left behind five children. Several of her family members attended the hearing. She was known to the defendant because she lived on property he inherited from his deceased mother, who died in 2018.
“I just knew her as my neighbor,” the accused teen said while testifying on Thursday.
The boy testified that he went to the property by himself about noon Aug. 12 to check on his late mother’s dogs and smoked marijuana with Valencia and one of her friends.
He testified that Valencia gave him a ride to pick up his friend, the alleged accomplice, and brought them back to her trailer, where they planned to stay for the night and she supplied them with food.
“We were all happy,” he said.
The defendant testified that all of them were smoking marijuana, but he was the only one doing meth. He said he had become addicted to the drug because it made him “feel in control.”
“After my mom died, I felt out of control,” he said.
After sundown, he said that he and Valencia were talking outside of the trailer when she began making derogatory statements about his dead mother.
“It still hurts me to this day,” he said.
The teen testified that he was carrying a blade similar to a kitchen knife with duct tape for a handle, but didn’t remember having it on him before he plunged it into the victim’s neck.
He said the victim fell down a hill before the co-defendant got a hatchet from inside the trailer and went after her. He remembered hearing chopping noises similar to the chopping of wood, but didn’t hear any screams or see anything.
Newkirk started his line of questioning by asking the boy about his relationship with his mother.
“My mom was my best friend,” he said. “We went everywhere together.”
Through further questions, he talked about being removed from his mother’s home temporarily at a young age by Child Welfare Services and that she often left him in the care of other people while she sold and did drugs.
The boy said he started drinking alcohol at 15, which his mother would buy for him because she wanted him to learn his limits before he became an adult and could legally drink. He said that his daily drinking increased significantly after her death.
Newkirk asked about the counseling the boy had received since being detained, which included counseling on substance abuse, school services and going to church.
“I feel a lot calmer and like I can open up to people,” he said. “I feel like if I get out, I won’t want to do drugs or alcohol.”
He also testified that he previously didn’t go to church because he felt that “God was against me” due to the deaths of his mother, father, and two of his grandparents.
The boy also testified to being bullied by other kids while attending Cassina High School. They talked about the way he smelled, his family, and hid his belongings, but he said that he didn’t fight back.
Earlier during the hearing, a Title I teacher’s aide who had the teen in his class at Cassina High said he observed moments of him being bullied by other kids and not fighting back or responding verbally.
The aide testified that he reported the bullying to the school’s administration, but didn’t know if records of it were made.
Assistant District Attorney Eric Hovatter questioned the teen about statements he made to authorities that contradicted some of his testimony on Thursday.
Hovatter pressed him about 44 disciplinary actions he received at school from age 10 to 13, as well as several incidents he relayed to a doctor about punching a football coach during his freshman year, concussing another kid who was picking on his younger brother, and fracturing someone’s ribs with a steel-toe boot.
The boy previously denied the incidents when Newkirk asked about them. He told Hovatter that he lied to the doctor about the steel-toe boot incident “for attention.”
“How do we know you’re not lying to everybody now for attention?” Hovatter asked.
“I don’t have a reason to lie right now,” the boy replied.
Hovatter responded that he had “every reason to lie right now” and asked if he knew why he was in the courtroom, to which the boy answered that he did.
The boy folded his arms about 30 minutes into Hovatter’s questioning and was asked to confirm whether he had been written up at school for bullying other kids. He responded, “If that’s what it says, then yeah.”
“You’ve admitted that you’ll lie if you have to, you’ve admitted that you lied to the doctor, so why should anyone believe what you’re saying?” Hovatter asked at one point.
Hovatter said the alleged accomplice has claimed that the boy who testified on Thursday stabbed Valencia multiple times as opposed to just once. He also said that the boy told police when he was arrested that he was “the type of person who could kill someone.”
Hovatter also questioned him and other witnesses on Thursday about the boy’s alleged “loose gang affiliation” with a group that referred to themselves as “juggalos,” which is a term commonly ascribed to fans of the Detroit shock-rap duo known as the Insane Clown Posse.
Earlier during the hearing, the boy’s grandmother and her husband testified that they had never heard him talk about the band. The grandmother said he told her about how he was thinking of joining a “juggalo” gang, which she strongly discouraged.
The boy told Newkirk that he claimed to be the “enforcer” of the gang because he was just trying to go along with it so he could watch out for the co-defendant in the case, who was also part of the crew.
He also told Hovatter that he only liked one song by the Insane Clown Posse, but Hovatter said he had downloaded two songs on his phone titled “Murder Go Round” and “My Axe,” in addition to exchanging text messages with the accomplice about the band.
Hovatter also asked about several incidents with other kids since he’s been detained.
“You have a history going back to your elementary days of people telling you things to do and you not doing it, and that’s all changed is what you’re saying?” Hovatter asked as his final question.
“Yes, slowly,” the boy replied.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 768-5175.