Valen has been charged with second-degree murder and first-degree arson charged. Following last week's two-days of testimony during a preliminary hearing, Magistrate Judge David Epis ordered Valen bound over to district court to face trial on those charges.
Two witnesses testified that Valen admitted to the murder.
When fireman Rick Van Meer found Valen standing outside the bathroom in the smoke-filled home, he said he asked Valen twice if anyone else was in the house, and heard the defendant answer, "I killed her," and put his hands behind his back.
His wife's badly mutilated body was found a short time later in the bathtub of the home, where she had been set on fire, one of four fires set in the home.
A short time later, as Valen was being treated by EMTs for smoke inhalation, Mountain Home Police officer Tom Mogolich said Valen seemed to be giving the EMTs a hard time and was refusing medical treatment.
Mogolich said Valen, "told me to put the handcuffs on him." When the officer asked why, Valen said, "Because I murdered my wife."
"He asked me if I had found his wife's body in the bathtub," Mogolich said.
He then conducted a pat search of Valen and placed him in the patrol car. Mogolich said he had not read Valen his rights prior to that time and Valen said he would make no further statements without seeing a lawyer.
Valen was then transported to St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center where he spent most of the week being treated for smoke inhalation before being returned to Elmore County to face charges. He is being held on $2 million bond.
Dr. Glen Groben, a forensic pathologist with the Ada County coroner's office, who performed the autopsy on the body of Jodi Valen, testified that during his initial examination he noted the front of the body, including some of the interior portions, had been burned and that she had sustained multiple stab wounds.
After removing the burned clothing, and cleaning the body, he identified over 103 stab wounds. He said there were actually more but some of the wounds were large, indicating she had been stabbed a number of times in the same wound site. He counted approximately 43-50 wounds to the chest, 20-23 to the abdomen, noting some of the wounds were so deep there were exit wounds on her back.
Groben also noted she had defensive wounds on her hands and arms when she reflexively put them out in front of her, attempting to stave off an attack.
He said she had wounds to her chest, abdomen, arms, legs, head, neck and face. She received multiple wounds to both lungs, her diaphragm, liver, pancreas, stomach and bowel. Bleeding in her chest cavity indicated she was alive when some of the wounds were inflicted, but the wounds that caused her death were those inflicted to all the chambers of her heart.
Since there was not a lot of bleeding around the head he deducted the multiple wounds to her head, face and neck had been inflicted after her death, he said.
A preliminary hearing is not a full trial, but is designed simply to show there is probable cause to continue with legal proceedings. Usually, a prosecutor lays out the reasons why they have charged an individual. Only during a full trial does the defense usually present its full case, along with the full case of the prosecutor. Valen has not been found guilty at this point of any of the charges and pretrial motions might result in some details being suppressed when and if Valen goes to trial in district court. He is scheduled to be arraigned in district court on the charges on April 4, at which time he will formally enter a plea.
The preliminary hearing opened with Prosecutor Aaron Bazzoli laying out the timeline of the case.
Barbara Stewart, a neighbor at 115 E. 8th North St., across the street from the Valen home, testified that she was watching TV and saw out of the corner of her eye what looked like a fire in the front window of the house across the street.
She told her husband and called 911. Her husband went across the street to see if anyone was in the house. She said he called out to see if anyone was around and talked to Fire Chief Phil Gridley, who was the first to arrive on the scene. She told Bazzoli that she and her husband had been concerned that the Valen couple's dogs were not barking.
During cross examination by Public Defender Ed Frachiseur, Stewart said that John Valen had lived in the house across the street for a couple of months and that she had seen a woman in the house as well, but didn't know whether or not the couple was married. She said she had not spoken to Valen, but had waved when they were in the yard.
Ronald Stewart, Mrs. Stewart's husband, said he observed the right front window was broken and flames were coming out of the home. He yelled into the windows to see if anyone was home. He said he was concerned that people were in the house because both cars were in the carport. He said, "usually if both cars were there, both people were home."
Fire Chief Phil Gridley and fire fighter Bud Corbus arrived on the scene at 8:58 p.m. Mountain Home police officers Mobles and Gonzales arrived at the scene by 9 p.m.
Finding the door locked, fireman Glen Knudson popped the lock with a special tool for breaking locks, took the hose and went in while Van Meer watched. The air above was thick with smoke.
The fire fighters set up a pressure fan and as smoke cleared Van Meer said he saw John Valen standing in the living room, near the bathroom door, at one end of the living room couch in GI camouflage pants and no shirt. "He just stood there," Van Meer said.
Van Meer took Valen out of the house and placed him near Gridley's car, asking him if there was anyone else in the house. At that point, Valen told him, "Yes. I killed her. Arrest me."
Van Meer told the other firefighters there was someone else inside and to look for her.
Describing what he found in the bathroom of the house, Van Meer said he saw a lady laying in the bathtub and that she was burned. He said he saw a dog laying on the floor to the right of the toilet.
"You could tell it was stabbed," he said. "It was dead." Two dogs were later found stabbed in the house, and Valen also has been charged with two counts of cruelty to animals.
When asked by Ed Frachiseur to describe John Valen's physical appearance, Van Meer noted that Valen had black inside his nose, indicating that Valen hand inhaled smoke.
Van Meer told Frachiseur that, yes, his quote of what Valen told him were Valen's exact words and that Van Meer's memory was still fresh when he wrote them down at 10 p.m. that evening.
He explained that when they returned to the station, the firefighters were debriefed and asked to each write in longhand what had happened. Reports were typed later from the handwritten notes.
Van Meer said that Capt. Corbus was also present when Valen made the statement that he killed his wife.
On redirect, Van Meer told Bazzoli that after Valens made the statement, he "went to his knees and put his hands behind his back."
Corbus' testimony was similar to that of Van Meer.
After repeating Valen's admission, which Corbus said he also heard, Corbus said that at first Valen's statement "didn't register. I thought he might be intoxicated to say something like that."
He told Bazzoli on redirect that Valen was sitting down with his hands behind his back and "may have said something like, 'cuff me' or 'go ahead and cuff me'," but Corbus was not certain.
He took Valen out of the house and placed him by the fire chief's car.
Fireman Mark Moore, who also came across Valen in the house, described Valen as unresponsive and seeming to be in a daze. He didn't appear to know the fire fighters were there. He said Valen was like a "zombie" and gave no appearance that he was trying to escape the building.
Moore heard people yelling there was someone else in the house and that there was someone in the bathroom. Moore said when he went into the bathroom he saw a lady in the bath tub and she had embers still burning on her body and her clothes and her face were burned. He did not take her pulse because she was clearly dead.
Authorities allege that after Valen killed his wife he attempted to burn her, setting one of four fires in the house.
Moore also said that laying next to her on one side was a rather large knife and he noted the dead dog on the floor.
Moore said that he also was asked to make a written statement that evening after the fire, a common occurrence in a fire where a death is involved. He said the firefighters do not compare notes.
Bazzoli also presented testimony outlining some details of the Valen lives in the day preceeding the alleged murder.
Michael Brandenburg, who served with Valen at Mountain Home AFB (Valen was a senior airman at the base), testified that Valen came to Brandenburg's residence in Mountain Home at 5:30 p.m. on March 5, and that Valen smelled of alcohol and appeared to be intoxicated.
They had a brief conversation lasting about 20-30 minutes in which Valen asked to borrow one of Brandenburg's firearms. Brandenburg quoted Valen as telling him, "he said his life was over." Although Valen didn't say why he felt that way, Brandenburg assumed it was in regard to Valen's active duty status with the Air Force.
Brandenburg asked Valen if he planned to hurt himself and Valen told him he did not. Brandenburg told Valen he would not give him a gun and asked if there was anyone he could call for Valen. Valen said no.
During cross, Brandenburg told Defense Attorney Ed Frachiseur that Valen thought of himself as a career Air Force NCO and seemed upset about problems he was having in the Air Force.
To establish that Jodi Valen was alive and well earlier on March 5, Bazzoli called Kerry Snook, a friend of Jodi Valen, to the stand. Snook said she had talked briefly with her earlier that day.
Fire Chief Gridley, a trained and qualified arson investigator, said that the fire in the Valen home was suppressed relatively quickly and that the operation was primarily a search and rescue effort.
He said he did a complete walk around of the outside and then the inside of the house to ascertain where the fire started, how it spread and if there was damage to the structure.
Drawing a diagram, Gridley explained that he found four fires set in four separate locations. He said that there was no fire in the kitchen or back bedroom, but they found the burned body in the bathroom and a fire set on top of the bed in the front bedroom.
They also found two large fires had been set in the living room on the top of two separate couches. Gridley noted that each couch was only half burned and that nothing indicated that fire had spread from one couch to another.
He said all four fires were started with a lighter fluid accelerant and three full cans of fluid used to start Barbecue grills and one of lighter fluid were found on the premises. He also noted that a smoke alarm was found removed from its installation site and on the floor. Gridley said the four separate fires indicated that an individual started the fires, with the first two fires set in the living room, the fourth in the front bedroom and third was an attempt to burn the body in the bathroom
He indicated the fires could not have been burning very long before firemen arrived.
After concluding all the testimony, Bazzoli told Judge Epis that he felt the state had presented sufficient evidence to justify the charges of one count of murder in the second degree and one count of arson in the first degree.
Frachiseur said he did not object to the charge of homicide, since the defendant had said he killed his wife, but he did have a problem with the charge of arson. He said that no one saw the fires being set and at no time did Valen say he had set the fires.
Bazzoli countered that a reasonable inference could be drawn based on the fact that John Valen was the only person found alive in a house locked from the inside. He cited the quick response time by the fire department and the fact that the smoke alarm was on the floor and fires had been started in four separate locations.
Frachiseur also objected to the attached misdemeanor charges of cruelty to animals but the judge said they traveled with the felony charges.
Judge Epis said that sufficient evidence had been presented to justify binding Valens over to District Court for arraignment on April 4.