A Fresno man apologized Thursday in Fresno County Superior Court for taking the law in his own hands when he shot a man in the knee last year, but said the victim violated a street code of honor by dating his ex-girlfriend.
Valentino Valdez, 53, told Judge Timothy Kams that he and the 53-year-old victim, Joe Contreras, have known each other for nearly 30 years, including while in prison together.
Valdez said he and Contreras had a falling out when he was released from prison last June and learned Contreras was living with Valdez’s former girlfriend.
Valdez agreed to settle his difference with a fist fight, but Contreras pulled a knife and stabbed him on July 15, 2016, said Fresno defense attorney Scott Baly, who represented Valdez. Though he nearly died, Valdez didn’t tell police who stabbed him, honoring a street code of honor of not snitching, Baly said.
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But once Valdez got out of the hospital, he got a 12-gauge shotgun and shot Contreras in the knee on Aug. 2, 2016, court records say.
I understand what I did was wrong. I took matters in my own hands. I avenged my own self.
On Thursday, Valdez told Kams: “I understand what I did was wrong. I took matters in my own hands. I avenged my own self.”
If convicted at trial, Valdez faced up to 26 years in prison. Because Kams knew the circumstances behind the shooting, he sentenced Valdez to 16 years in prison.
Court records say Valdez has a long rap sheet of convictions for drugs, vandalism, domestic violence and other crimes.
Baly said Valdez never denied shooting Contreras. In February, he pleaded guilty to assault with a firearm and being a felon in possession of a gun, court records say.
On the streets, Baly said, Valdez lives by a code of honor that includes not dating a friend’s girlfriend and never snitching on anyone. The case is about “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” Baly said.
Police said Contreras was wounded around 10 a.m. Aug. 2 while fixing a flat bicycle tire on Clinton Avenue near College Avenue, just north of the Fresno City College campus. The Street Violence Section Tactical Team arrested Valdez eight days later after leaving his mother’s home in the 200 block of West Amador Avenue in southwest Fresno. Police recovered the shotgun from the home.
Contreras told police that Valdez sneaked up and shot him in the knee at close range. “Valentino never said anything to him, not before, nor after the shooting,” court records say.
The victim told police he was living with Valdez’s former girlfriend for several months. He also told police “he knew Valentino from prison, where they served time together,” court records say.
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
Defense attorney Scott Baly
The girlfriend told police she had dated Valdez from 2009to 2013, but broke up with him when he became physically abusive. She said a week prior to the shooting, she received a letter from Valdez, telling her to get rid of her new boyfriend. “The letter further conveyed that Joe was going to end up in the hospital to learn a lesson,” court records say.
The letter was signed, “Love, Tino.”
Once arrested, Valdez told police that he was released from prison on June 10, 2016. Valdez said he confronted Contreras on July 15 because “he felt disrespected by Joe for dating” his former girlfriend, court records say.
As they prepared to fight in an alley, Valdez said he took off his shirt. Contreras then stabbed him twice before fleeing on his bicycle, court records say.
Valdez never told police who stabbed him, saying: “We are old convicts. I didn’t want to snitch on him.” Valdez spent about a week in the hospital.
Contreras did not attend Thursday’s hearing. Baly said Contreras didn’t want to come to court because he is a reluctant victim/witness.
Valdez told the judge he wasn’t trying to kill Contreras. “I aimed low,” he said.
He also told Kams the shooting wasn’t planned. “It was a last-minute thing,” Valdez said. “When I saw him, I just saw red.”