A false-confession expert will be allowed to testify at a June trial for a man accused of killing a Roy mother and son, a judge ruled this week.
Jeremy Lee Valdes, 37, is charged in 2nd District Court with two counts of capital murder for the 2009 deaths of Matthew Roddy, 30, and Pamela Knight Jeffries, 53. He is also charged with second-degree felony obstructing justice, along with joyriding and two counts of abuse or desecration of a human body, all third-degree felonies.
On Monday, Judge Mark DeCaria ruled that Valdes’ defense attorney can put a false-confession expert on the stand during trial, if Valdes’ confession to police is admitted as evidence. The expert, Deborah Davis, can testify about “factors that may lead to false confessions,” DeCaria wrote in the order, but cannot say whether she feels Valdes’ confession is more likely true or false.
DeCaria wrote in his order that attorneys came to the stipulation agreement, in part, due to a recent Utah Supreme Court decision in another Ogden murder case.
In March 2010, a jury convicted Riqo Perea of two counts of aggravated murder for killing Sabrina Prieto, 22, and Rosendo Nevarez, 29, while firing into a crowd during a wedding party the night of August 4, 2007.
The high court found that Perea’s trial judge erred by excluding testimony from a false-confession expert, but the justices upheld the conviction, concluding the error was harmless and did not undermine their confidence in the guilty verdict “when viewed against the backdrop of Mr. Perea’s overwhelming guilt.”
Valdes’ seven-week trial will come nearly five years after he allegedly fatally stabbed Roddy during an argument about stolen prescription drugs on Nov. 25, 2009. Police believe Valdes then beat Jeffries, Roddy’s mother, before leaving her unconscious with a plastic trash bag around her head, and stuffing her and Roddy into a closet.
Miranda Statler, Valdes’ girlfriend, was charged with moving the bodies, stealing Matthew Roddy’s car and lying to police. She pleaded guilty in 2010 to obstructing justice and was sentenced to prison for up to 15 years.
Weber County prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Valdes.
Valdes will be back in court on March 28 for further oral arguments.
A September trial was cancelled last year after defense attorney Randall Marshall told a judge that he had several concerns, including whether Valdes’ confession to police was voluntary, whether he has a diminished mental capacity, and whether a mental defect may have resulted in a “false confession.”
After an MRI and other tests, a defense expert concluded that Valdes has “frontal lobe executive dysfunction,” which impairs Valdes’ ability to plan, organize or execute a goal. This may allow Valdes to raise a “diminished mental capacity defense,” his attorneys wrote in a motion asking for the trial delay.
Prosecutors have said they have issues with the expert and may try to disqualify him.