COSTA MESA, CA — It was late into their date in March 2017 when Amber Angelovic fatally stabbed Derek Valentine with a knife she carried for protection. Although she claimed Valentine held her prisoner inside his apartment, she was charged days later with his murder. If convicted, she faced 26 years or more in prison, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office said.
But after almost three years, Senior Deputy District Attorney Heather Brown asked the court Monday to dismiss all charges against Angelovic, acknowledging she had acted in self-defense.
It has been a long road to reach this point, according to the Angelovic family, who have blogged her journey.
“She was charged with murder because she refused to be a victim,” they wrote.
The night of the stabbing, Valentine and Angelovic went out for drinks at a Costa Mesa bar.
They hired an Uber to drive them back to Valentine’s apartment a short distance away, in the 600 block of Shasta Lane. At some point in the date, the tide turned: Angelovic wanted to leave, she said, and Valentine refused her exit.
He “began hitting her in the face and throwing her down,” the district attorney said of Angelovic’s 911 call.
She claimed that she was held prisoner in the bedroom until she finally escaped. In a flurry of motion, she stabbed him. She was fearful of being raped or killed, she said, and used a knife she carried for protection, as she had been taught in a self-defense class. “She first tried to reason and plead with her attacker, but her 5-foot, 5-inch frame was no match for his height and strength,” a spokesperson for Angelovic wrote on her blog. “The moment she was safe, she dialed 911.”
When Costa Mesa police arrived at the scene, they discovered Valentine fatally stabbed at the bottom of a stairwell. They arrested Angelovic, who was charged with murder and held on $1 million bail.
Her bond was paid by 20 families, her spokesperson wrote, adding “that is a testimony to her character.”
From that moment on, Angelovic proclaimed her innocence as a matter of self-defense, as did her attorney, John Barnett, and multiple character witnesses.
Since that time, Angelovic blogged, she gathered friends and family around her and pressed on, proclaiming that she was the victim of a violent assault and forced to defend herself or be killed.
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The horrors she said she experienced were at odds with what neighbors said they knew of Valentine.
Neighbors spoke of Valentine as “super nice,” retired Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy said.
However, Costa Mesa detectives looking into Valentine’s life said they found a much darker side.
“A search of Valentine’s home revealed drug paraphernalia,” the district attorney’s office said. He had “books on how to get women to have sex with you,” a whiteboard with handwritten notes about how to stalk women, and numerous text messages in which he denigrated women along with “discussions about overcoming women’s will to have sex,” the office said.
A search of his computer also revealed internet searches for date rape drugs, the office said.
The district attorney’s office decided to drop the case, which was established by the previous DA, Tony Rackauckas. Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer discussed what it means to close a case such as this.
“The decision to dismiss criminal charges, especially charges that involve the death of a person, is not a decision that is made lightly,” Spitzer said. It is the role of prosecutors to consider both the evidence and all possible defenses, he said.
“After a thorough review and careful consideration, there is insufficient evidence, in this case, to prove murder beyond a reasonable doubt,” Spitzer said. “It is for that reason — and that reason alone — that I am requested these charges be dismissed.”
According to Brown, Angelovic had a lawful right to self-defense, and Brown made the motion to dismiss the charges based on a lack of sufficient evidence and in the interest of justice.
“It was humbling and touching to experience the prayers and support from people all over the world. We owe you such a debt of gratitude,” the Angelovic family wrote on her blog. “We are struggling to find the right words at the moment. After three years, we will need some time to process, heal and celebrate. Thank you for walking this difficult road with us.”
Read more about her journey on Amber Angelovic’s blog.