Needing an escape from the two women in his life, Steven Howard Mittelman sought out a third.
It had been more than 30 years since Mittelman last spoke to Judy Fuellenbach, but when the stresses of his home and work lives became too much, Mittelman tracked his former lover down.
“He wanted to be free,” Fuellenbach testified Tuesday morning in an El Dorado County courtroom. “He felt like he had two guard dogs on him.”
Mittelman, 56, is charged with the first-degree murder of his ex-wife, Valerie Rita Mittelman.
Valerie Mittelman was found dead inside the El Dorado Hills apartment she shared with Mittelman and his wife, Gail, on June 17, 2010.
In the weeks leading up to Valerie’s death, Mittelman had found Fuellenbach on Facebook, unbeknownst to his current wife.
“He just wanted to reconnect our old friendship,” she said.
The two had a romantic relationship in the mid-1970s and even discussed getting married.
“We kinda fell in love,” Fuellenbach recalled.
Prosecutors claim Mittelman and Valerie, on the night of her death, had a drunken argument over Mittelman’s blossoming relationship with Fuellenbach.
Valerie, according to deputy district attorney Joe Alexander, felt that Mittelman was wrong for speaking to and visiting Fuellenbach behind his wife’s back.
But Fuellenbach testified that their daily conversations and occasional visits were strictly platonic. Mittelman, she said, was burnt out from his day-to-day life and needed a friend to talk to.
“Pretty much, he was saying that (Valerie and Gail) were stressing him out and he was tired of it,” she said. “They were both pushing his buttons.”
Fuellenbach testified that Mittelman was weary of Valerie’s henpecking and expressed fear that his second marriage was failing.
“He kind of suggested that (Gail) didn’t love him anymore,” she said.
The two would also discuss Mittelman’s fledgling business, Placerville’s 1 Stop Market.
“Mostly, we would talk about his store,” said Fuellenbach.
But occasionally, Mittelman and Fuellenbach would reminisce about days gone by.
“He kind of called me the old pet names he had for me back in the day,” she said.
In fact, Mittelman expressed interest in rekindling a romantic relationship if his marriage with Gail ended, Fuellenbach testified.
Mittelman even invited Fuellenbach to stay with him while Gail was out of town in June 2010. Fuellenbach declined the invitation.
“I was a recent widow and I didn’t think it was too good of an idea when his wife was out of town,” she explained.
In pre-trial interviews conducted by sheriff’s detectives, Mittelman claimed Fuellenbach was confined to a wheelchair and suffered from a slew of mental and physical disabilities.
A woman in Fuellenbach’s condition, according to Mittelman, was not the kind of person with whom he would pursue an affair.
On Tuesday, Fuellenbach refuted those claims, saying she had never used a wheelchair in her life.
Fuellenbach was not cross-examined by Mittelman’s public defender, Bob Banning, and was excused. She was the final witness called by the prosecution.
Banning delivered his opening statement Tuesday and called the defense’s first witness.