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Trial begins for El Dorado Hills man in ex-wife’s death

By September 22, 2011

Steven Howard Mittelman, according to prosecutors, had too many women in his life.

In addition to sharing a small El Dorado Hills apartment with his wife, Gale Mittelman, 56, also lived with his ex-wife, 63-year-old Valerie Rita Mittelman.

But Mittelman also had a blossoming relationship with a third woman — one prosecutors say he kept hidden from his current wife.

“This was not a romantic relationship, but it was a budding relationship,” El Dorado County deputy district attorney Joe Alexander told jurors during his opening statement Tuesday.

And it was Mittelman’s desire to keep this relationship secret that led him to fatally shoot his ex last year, Alexander said.

On June 17, 2010, El Dorado County sheriff’s deputies responded to a reported  accidental suicide at the Vineyards at Valley View apartment complex in El Dorado Hills.

But Alexander said Valerie’s death was no accident.

“He killed his ex-wife,” he said. “He murdered her.”

With Gale Mittelman out of town for the weekend, Mittelman planned on having the third woman, identified as Judy in Modesto, visit him.

But Valerie did not approve of her ex-husband’s behavior and after a drunken argument between the former couple, Mittelman went to his briefcase, grabbed his handgun, sat next to Valerie and shot her, Alexander said.

The attorney’s version of events differs significantly from what Mittelman initially told dispatchers during his 911 call last year.

“After he shot his ex-wife, he started lying about it,” Alexander said.

The recording of Mittelman’s 911 call was played for jurors immediately following the attorney’s opening.

“We were playing around with a gun and we were having a heated conversation,” Mittelman was recorded as saying. “She put a gun to her head and said ‘I’m going to kill myself.’”

During his 911 call, Mittelman seemed to be intoxicated and agitated. He told the dispatcher several times that he wanted to die.

“I’m about ready to kill myself,” he said.

And moments later: “I would almost rather go back inside the apartment and pull the trigger on myself.”

Mittelman was eventually detained and arrested in connection with Valerie’s killing.

Hours after his arrest, though, Mittelman offered detectives yet another explanation for his ex-wife’s death, telling investigators he and Valerie struggled over the handgun and that he might have accidentally shot her.

Several days later, Mittelman again changed his story while awaiting his arraignment in the Placerville jail, Alexander said.

This time, the El Dorado Hills man told detectives that he killed Valerie because he was provoked. Mittelman, according to Alexander, claimed he shot his ex over something she said to him. It was not murder but manslaughter, Mittelman thought.

But when asked what exactly Valerie said, the El Dorado Hills man was unable to remember.

For Alexander, there is a simple explanation regarding Mittelman’s inability to remember.

“He hasn’t figured out what he needs to say to convince (the jury) that it was manslaughter,” he said.

Mittelman’s attorney, public defender Bob Banning, opted to deliver his opening statement at the conclusion of the prosecution’s case.

Gale Mittelman was not present during Tuesday morning’s hearing.

Mittelman has pleaded not guilty to Valerie’s first-degree murder. Attorneys have previously said they expect the trial to last 12 days.

[email protected]

Jim Ratajczak


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