Dionecia Valencia home

The actions of a teenager accused in the August 2019 killing of Dionecia Valencia have to be taken in the context of his troubled life before the “horrific” and “gruesome” events took place, a state-licensed psychologist paid by defense attorneys said at a hearing Thursday morning to determine if the 17-year-old male will be charged as an adult.

Dr. Phillip M. Hamm cited the breakdown of the boy’s family, his trauma, depression and anxiety, his immaturity and unfulfilled dependency needs, and the significant influence of the other teenager who is also accused in Valencia’s death.

“This was not sophisticated criminal behavior,” Hamm, who described himself as a forensic psychologist, said in response to questions from the teen’s defense attorney, Clint Parish of Sonora. “That was immature and ignorant. They came up with an immature plan. He tried to stop what happened, in the version he gave to me.”

The boy had a history of chronic marijuana abuse, fighting at school, temporary homelessness, and a fondness he shared with the other accused teenager for Insane Clown Posse music and hatchet symbolism, law enforcement and probation officials said in court earlier this week.

Hamm said the unnamed teenager is a fit and proper subject to be dealt with and treated in the juvenile court system. He prepared a report on the teen that included diagnoses of separation-attachment trauma from his mother and his stepfather, post-traumatic stress disorder, and chronic-acute depression with anxiety.

Assistant District Attorney Eric Hovatter, the prosecutor in the hearing, quizzed Hamm on specialty guidelines for forensic psychology, including integrity, partiality, fairness and use of appropriate methods.

Hovatter asked how long it took Hamm to write, proofread and spell-check his report, as well as how much he billed for it. Hamm said it took six-and-a-half hours, and he billed $1,625.

Hovatter asked if Hamm strove for accuracy and made sure his report was unbiased, to which Hamm responded, “Yes, but by the time I finish the report I do have a bias. I made my conclusions and I’m defending my conclusions in my report. In that respect, I’m quite biased.”

Hamm confirmed to Hovatter that he had billed defense attorneys in the teen’s case $6,500 so far, but denied that the money had anything to do with his bias. Questioned again by Hovatter on how much he stood to make for his appearance in court Thursday, Hamm estimated $3,500.

Rachel Stahl, the supervising officer for Tuolumne County juvenile probation, spent more than an hour answering questions Wednesday from Hovatter, Parish and Judge Frank Dougherty. She was present in court again Thursday, seated next to Hovatter.

The teenager is accused of first-degree murder, attempted murder, first-degree residential burglary and arson of an inhabited structure in the August 2019 death of Valencia, who was 39 years old when she died.

Last week, Presiding Judge Donald Segerstrom ruled the other teen accused in Valencia’s death, Gage Stokes, who is also 17, will be tried as an adult. The next court date for Stokes is 1:30 p.m. Aug. 12 at the main Tuolumne County Courthouse building on Yaney Avenue. Both boys were 16 when Valencia was killed in August.

The unnamed teen’s hearing is expected to continue Thursday afternoon in a public courtroom on North Washington Street. The Union Democrat newspaper is not naming the teen unless the local court rules he will be tried as an adult.

See Friday’s edition of The Union Democrat for more on this story.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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