Feature Photos

Mittelman trial: Defendant videotaped during detainment

By September 22, 2011

Steven Mittelman sits in court during the first day of his trial.

While handcuffed and detained in the back of a patrol car parked outside of his El Dorado Hills apartment, Steven Howard Mittelman watched El Dorado County sheriff’s deputies investigate the reported suicide of his ex-wife on the evening of June 17, 2010.

It was earlier that night when Mittelman dialed 911 and frantically told an emergency dispatcher that Valerie Rita Mittelman, his ex, had accidentally shot herself in the head.

Left alone in the cruiser for nearly four hours, Mittelman was seemingly unaware that an in-car camera was recording his every word.

“These people don’t have a clue on how to investigate a murder,” Mittelman said to himself.

Mittelman’s statement came in the first of three short video clips that were shown to jurors late Monday in the first-degree murder trial.

Mittelman, 56, is accused of shooting ex-wife Valerie, 63, after a heated argument between the former couple. Valerie was found dead inside the apartment she shared with Mittelman and his then-current wife, Gail.

Records indicate Gail and Mittelman divorced on Aug. 31.

During his opening statement, El Dorado County deputy district attorney Joe Alexander told the court that Mittelman and Valerie were arguing over Mittelman’s blossoming relationship with a third woman — an old friend from Modesto — despite still being married to Gail.

In the first video clip, Mittelman appears agitated and criticizes deputies’ efforts to investigate a murder despite telling dispatch Valerie shot herself.

In the second clip, Mittelman laments the death of his ex-wife.

“I love her and I miss her,” he said.

Moments later, he said: “I have nothing to live for anymore. My wife is dead.”

In the third and final clip, Mittelman appears defiant and confident that he would be acquitted in a court of law, despite not having yet been charged with any crime.

“You guys want to try this? You’ll lose,” he said.

Prosecutors had planned on calling sheriff’s detective Ken Barber to testify about a conversation he and Mittelman had on the night of Valerie’s death, but Bob Banning, Mittelman’s public defender, objected to the detective’s testimony.

According to the attorney, the June 17, 2010, conversation was more akin to a custodial interrogation. Banning said his client was under the assumption that he was in-custody and noted the Mittelman should have been formally Mirandized by the detective.

After hearing arguments from Banning and Alexander, Superior Court Judge Daniel B. Proud ruled in favor of the defense.

“I don’t think that there is any question that … a reasonable person would think they were in custody,” said Proud.

Instead of hearing Barber’s testimony, several state Department of Justice officials were called to the stand.

The experts were able to match the empty shell casing found in the apartment with a handgun found between the feet of Mittelman’s ex-wife.

Robert Wilson, a DOJ criminalist, told jurors that Valerie was likely shot from a distance of 30 to 36 inches.

Had Valerie shot herself, her body would have had evidence of “burning particles” and a greater amount of gunshot residue, Wilson said.

Prosecutors claim Mittelman has changed his story three different times: First, telling officials that Valerie shot herself. Later, Mittelman allegedly told detectives that he and Valerie struggled over the handgun and that it accidentally went off. But after being charged with Valerie’s killing, Mittelman claimed he shot his ex after being provoked, according to Alexander.

Mittelman has pleaded not guilty to his ex-wife’s first-degree murder.

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Jim Ratajczak


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