Justin Valine’s version of the truth trumped his love for his father Wednesday in Sacramento Superior Court.
Both he and Daniel Joseph Valine dabbed moisture from their eyes during the son’s testimony in which he said he saw his father level a shotgun at a close friend and shoot him in the face.
Their tears rolled when Justin Valine testified about the last time he shared meaningful time with his dad, when they were being questioned by sheriff’s detectives in connection with last year’s fatal Oct. 27 shooting of Kelly McClurg.
Investigators had been questioning the two of them separately for several hours at the time of their Dec. 13 arrest, when they gave them both a cigarette break.
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“I told him I loved him,” Justin Valine testified, “and that I would come visit him.”
Daniel Valine, 45, is facing a life term in prison with no chance of parole if he is convicted in the pot-robbery murder of McClurg, 60, at the victim’s Wilton-area home. He is accused along with Kailan Joshua James, 23, in the trial now in its second week in front of Judge Eugene L. Balonon.
Justin Valine initially had been charged with murder along with the other two, largely on the word of James, who said the younger Valine got some of the marijuana. Prosecutors say the shooting was precipitated by McClurg’s harsh denunciation of James and his girlfriend, Marissa Valine, both of whom he suspected of stealing some dope from him about a week before the killing. Marissa Valine is Daniel Valine’s daughter and Justin’s sister.
Prosecutors allowed Justin Valine to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter in exchange for his truthful testimony in the trial of his father and James, carnival workers who had been living in trailers on the Stockton Fairgrounds at the time of the killing. Justin described James as a close friend since they were little boys.
Under the terms of the deal, Justin Valine, 24 and the father of three children, is facing a sentence of three, six or 11 years. He had been looking at life in prison without parole before he took his Sept. 11 deal. He is scheduled for sentencing Nov. 21.
He testified he doesn’t think he’s guilty of anything, but that he took the deal because “I wasn’t willing to risk my whole life without parole.”
In his Wednesday testimony, Justin Valine, who also worked the local carnival circuit, said he went to a party in Elk Grove the night of the killing. He said he had too much to drink at the party and called his grandmother’s house for a ride home to the trailer he stayed at on her property off Sheldon Road.
James took the call and showed up with Daniel Valine to pick him up, Justin testified. His father then informed him they first were going to make a quick stop by McClurg’s place on Dillard Road near the Highway 99 to “smooth things over” from the previous week’s pot mess. Justin Valine said they stopped at an AM-PM for three large cans of beer before they made it down to “Uncle Kelly’s,” their affectionate term for McClurg.
When they they got there, McClurg “looks at me and says, ‘How you doing, rug rat?’ And I got out of the car and he gave me a hug,” Valine testified.
Inside McClurg’s house, Justin said, he sat down at the kitchen table while his father stood next to a counter, drinking beer and smoking a cigarette. McClurg broke out some pot. Valine said his father excused himself to go out to the car to get some cigarettes, and when he came back, he kept his right hand cocked and hidden behind his back, with his demeanor radically changed.
“He looked mad and upset, more than I’ve ever seen him,” Justin Valine testified. “He looked like he was going to punch Uncle Kelly.” Instead, he said, Daniel Valine pulled out a sawed-off shotgun from behind his back “and he walked up and he shot my Uncle Kelly in the head once.”
Justin said his father is a veteran of Operation Desert Storm who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He said the only time he has remotely seen his father look the way he did shortly after midnight last Oct. 27 was when he was having a flashback from the Gulf War.
The son testified he ran out of the house after the blast and heard another shot in his wake, then a third.
Outside, he saw James, who had been waiting in the car. Now James was near the front door of the house, according to Justin Valine, who testified he ran to their car and “I kind of put my head between my legs ... I was kind of frantic. My ears were still ringing.”
Two or three minutes elapsed before his father and James emerged from the house, Valine said. James, he testified, had a bear hug on an armload of marijuana plants wrapped in a blanket. With his dad driving, they broke through a gate and took off on nearby Highway 99.
When he asked Daniel Valine to take him home, his father replied, “OK, son,” Justin testified.
Justin Valine admittedly lied about several details of McClurg’s killing when investigators first questioned him last December. He said he was nervous and didn’t want to get blamed “because I didn’t murder anybody.”
He said he also wanted to protect his father.
“I do love him very much,” Justin testified, “with all my heart.”