Murder defendant's outbursts delay trial, but final decision is coming soon

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- An outburst from a murder defendant put his trial in a Fresno courtroom on hold for the moment, but Joel Valera could find himself convicted as soon as Thursday.

Valera has tried a couple of times to dump his attorney, using some very specific legal terminology to say he's not getting "sufficient counsel."

The judge has denied his requests, and his frustration bubbled over Wednesday, so he got kicked out of court, while his attorney kept trying to improve his chances.

As Joel Valera's murder trial neared its end, his decision whether to testify was all that was left.

The answer wouldn't come easily, but it came loudly.

"Do you wish to place anything else on the record, Ms. Pincus, before the jury is brought out?" Judge Houry Sanderson asked Valera's public defender after she said Valera wouldn't tell her whether he wanted to testify.

"No," public defender Marina Pincus said.

At that point, Valera smacked his hand hard against the desk in front of him.

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"If I am not going to be given the right to testify or say anything then I don't want to be here," he said.

"Mr. Valera, you are being given the right," Judge Sanderson said.

"I want to..." Valera shouted before the judge cut him off.

"Quiet," she said.

"I want to testify," Valera said.

"You do?" the judge asked.

"I do, but I don't want her as my attorney," Valera said.

Valera killed Artie Gomez four years ago, shooting his next-door neighbor as Gomez and his teenage sons and nephews prepared for a camping trip.

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His attorney laid a self-defense argument for him, but with time running out in the trial, and without the jury in court, Valera shouted about his attorney and said he'd keep it up in front of jurors too.

"It is not to your advantage, Mr. Valera, to have these kind of outbursts," Judge Sanderson told him.

"I do not care," Valera said. "It is to my advantage to be provided, sufficient counsel."

"You have stated that several times and I have made my ruling," the judge said.

"Based on what?" Valera said

"The record will speak for itself," said Judge Sanderson, referring to her previous rulings that Pincus was providing Valera the best defense possible.

"Based on what?" Valera said.

"Mr. Valera, quiet," the judge said.

She eventually removed Valera from the courtroom for repeated disruptions, in the morning and again in the afternoon, but his attorney kept working to present evidence to reduce any conviction from murder to manslaughter.

"They would come in to show his perceptions, and that goes towards imperfect self-defense," she said of videotaped statements Valera made to police.

Legal analysts tell Action News it sounds like he's making an amateur and probably fruitless attempt to set up an appeal after a conviction.

They'll try to bring him back to court Thursday morning for closing arguments in the trial.

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