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Fireplace poker then, gun now

Suspect at age 13 murdered Manteca girlfriend’s dad

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Fireplace poker then, gun now

Juan Valdez

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POSTED March 20, 2013 1:17 a.m.

An earlier grisly murder conviction handed down more than two decades ago when he was only 13,  has Juan Valdez, 37, now facing the death penalty if found guilty of shooting his long-time girlfriend to death last week in French Camp.

Valdez made his first court appearance Tuesday before Superior Court Judge Brett Morgan, in the Stockton Courthouse. However he did not enter a plea in the death of Gloria Castro at their rural home in the 10200 block of South Janet Road.  He had told Sheriff’s deputies that the shooting was accidental.

In March of 1989 Valdez and a friend Berto Talavera, 15, conspired with Michele Say to kill her 47-year-old father,  Ron Say,  who objected to his daughter associating with the two boys.  She had been dating Valdez, according to a front page Bulletin story on the scenario of the murder.

Say, who worked for Lockheed Aviation and Space Corporation in Sunnyvale, was found brutally stabbed, bludgeoned and strangled to death March 21 in his Oldham Place residence just north of East Union High. He had been stabbed repeatedly with a butcher knife, bludgeoned with a fireplace poker and strangled with a metal chain dog leash.

Police in 1989 said there was evidence salt had been poured into the open wounds.  The gruesome find was reported by his daughter Michele, a seventh grader at Neil Hafley Elementary School.  A six hour manhunt resulted in the capture of Talavera and Valdez at the home of a third juvenile where they were found still wearing blood spattered clothing.

Students at Michele’s elementary school were shocked by the murder of their classmate’s father.  The school district provided counselors for the students when they returned to classes that Wednesday morning. 

“I gave the staff an overview of the situation,” Principal Joe Wickham was quoted as saying in 1989.  “We told teachers to use their best judgment, but not to talk about (the murder) if a student didn’t want to bring it up.  We also told them that if a student needed to talk about it they could send the student to one of the counselors.  Since Michele was a seventh grader, we didn’t expect the younger students to ask many questions.”

“But, we knew the junior high school students would be talking about it,” he said.

Michele was arrested three days later after attending the funeral of a family member in Placerville.  Officers said she had conspired with the two young teens to kill her father and let them in the home earlier in the morning of the murder and knew they were going to kill her dad. 

The dead man’s brother, Gary Say, was quoted as telling police that his brother Ronnie was visually frustrated over his daughter’s association with the boys.  He said his brother was very upset days before the murder because Michelle and the boys had broken into his bedroom.

Say had talked about selling his house, quitting his job and moving out of Manteca to give his daughter a better opportunity in life, his brother recalled.

Manteca officers, who worked the case some 23 years ago, said the juveniles could not be fully prosecuted for murder because of their ages; however they did spend time in custody for related charges. Today juveniles committing such a crime could be prosecuted as adults.

Michele had moved to Manteca with her dad two years earlier after her parents had separated. 

In last week’s French Camp murder deputies were called to the home by neighbors who heard a loud fight underway and reported hearing gunfire as the officers were enroute.  They found her shot once in the torso and attempted CPR to save her life. 

The neighbors told deputies they heard yelling as they saw two of the woman’s children run into the house – moments later they heard a gunshot.  Some five minutes later the girls, 5 and 9 years old, were seen running from the home and down the road to their grandmother’s residence about two blocks away.

Neighbors were quoted as saying Valdez was short tempered and gunfire was often heard to the rear of the house in the back yard.  One woman said she had told her daughter not to play with the girls because of the continual fighting and shooting.

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