Jilted and broke, Valerie Rita Mittelman called her ex-husband and pleaded for financial help in November 2008.
By Thanksgiving that year, she traded her life in Georgia for a tiny El Dorado Hills apartment occupied by Steven Howard Mittelman and then-wife, Gail.
Valerie worked tirelessly at Mittelman’s Placerville liquor store, taking home $30 a week for her efforts.
Less than two years later, she was dead; shot clean through the head by her ex’s handgun.
For the first time since the first-degree murder trial began, El Dorado County jurors got an inside look into the home life of the Mittelmans — Steven, Valerie and Gail — during a three-and-a-half hour recorded interview between Steven Mittelman and investigators.
The interview was conducted on June 17, 2010, hours after Valerie was found dead on her couch.
Steven Mittelman, 56, is charged with his ex-wife’s slaying.
During the preliminary interview, Mittelman told investigators that he and Valerie divorced in 2005 after she left him for an old flame in Georgia.
Three years later, in 2008, Valerie was dumped. Unable to make ends meet, she phoned Mittelman and asked for his help. Realizing that his ex was in trouble, Mittelman instead invited her to move into his El Dorado Hills apartment.
“She was my best friend in the whole world,” Mittelman told detectives. “My very best friend.”
Mittelman called his living arrangement “very, very odd,” but said Valerie and his then-wife Gail were able to live harmoniously.
“They got along very well actually,” he said. “Better than I expected.”
Mittelman and Valerie had known one another for more than 30 years. Although they were divorced, Mittelman told detectives he and his ex possessed an undeniable chemistry.
“Valerie was my very best friend in the world,” he said. “(Gail) didn’t even come close.”
Valerie was allowed to live with the Mittelmans rent-free and was given a job at Mittelman’s business, Placerville’s 1 Stop Market. According to Mittelman, Valerie made $30 a week but had a way with customers.
She quickly became Mittelman’s “biggest single asset” and certified “workhorse.”
“Without Valerie, the store might as well be gone,” he told authorities.
On June 16, 2010, Gail Mittelman left the El Dorado Hills apartment and traveled to San Diego for the birth of her first grandchild.
Left alone, Mittelman and Valerie decided to “have a little fun” and share some drinks.
“Kinda like when the cat’s away, the mice will play,” Mittelman said during the interview.
But what started as a relaxing Thursday evening quickly escalated into a heated argument, according to Mittelman.
Valerie, Mittelman said, was unhappy that he was planning on visiting another woman, identified as Judy from Modesto, behind Gail’s back.
“(Valerie was) very, very angry with me that I’m still having contact with Judy,” Mittelman said.
Mittelman told detectives that Judy was a disabled widow with failing health and a slew of mental health issues.
“It’s not like I’m going to have an affair with a disabled woman in a wheelchair,” Mittelman said.
Mittelman said his relationship with Judy was strictly platonic. Valerie, he said, was not appeased and demanded her ex-husband break off contact with the other woman.
It was during the ensuing argument that Valerie proved just how far she would go to make her point, according to Mittelman.
“And then Valerie challenged me,” he said. “She said, ‘I’m going to get the gun and I’ll prove I’m more of a man than you.’”
Hours earlier, Mittelman told emergency dispatch that Valerie had accidentally shot herself.
This time, he said his ex-wife was shot during the struggle for the handgun.
“I looked at Valerie and blood started going down her head,” Mittelman told detectives. “I started hugging her.”
Detectives appeared skeptical of Mittleman’s story, wondering why he was unable to remember specific details of the night and noting inconsistencies.
“I just can’t imagine sitting there and letting someone go up to get a loaded gun,” one investigator told Mittelman.
The skepticism seemed warranted, though, as several days later, Mittelman again spoke with detectives.
Again, Mittelman had a different story to tell.
This time, Mittelman said he had a “faint recollection” of getting his firearm during the argument with Valerie, aiming it at her and pulling the trigger.
Mittelman was unable to remember what caused him to do that, but seemed sure that Valerie said something to him that cut “right to the core of my being.”
“I think she said something very hurtful to me,” he told detectives. “It might have had something to do with an abortion she had many years ago.”
According to Mittelman, the shooting took his ex by surprise.
“I don’t think she knew that I was coming back with a gun,” he professed.
Despite admitting to the shooting during the interview, Mittelman said the killing was an act of manslaughter.
“It’s not murder,” he insisted. “I’m not a murderer. I’m not a criminal.”