Jury takes minutes to convict lifer in attack on penitentiary officer


WALLA WALLA — A Superior Court jury has convicted a Washington State Penitentiary lifer of participating in last year’s attack on a correctional sergeant who was spared serious injury because of items in and on his uniform.

John Valdez, 45, was found guilty Thursday of custodial assault.

In what has to be one of the shortest closed-door deliberations in Walla Walla County history, the nine-man, three-woman jury reached its unanimous verdict in less than 10 minutes after having seen surveillance video footage and hearing officers’ testimonies in the trial that began Wednesday.

A three-strikes convict, Valdez currently is serving life without parole for assaults in Yakima County in the 1980s and ’90s. He faces five years when he’s sentenced later for assaulting correctional Sgt. James Bailey and will serve that time should he for any reason be spared his life sentence.

Also, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Joe Golden explained in an interview that prosecution of this case “sends a message that just because you’re doing ‘life without’ doesn’t give you free rein on correctional officers.”

Officials said Valdez and co-defendant Castulo J. Rivas, 46, assaulted Bailey about 7:40 p.m. on Feb. 4, 2012, during a fight in the commons area of a living unit in the penitentiary’s West Complex that houses high-risk prisoners.

Bailey reportedly had confronted Valdez and Rivas — who were armed with handmade, sharpened objects — and ordered them to drop their weapons.

Although it first was reported that Valdez started hitting Bailey in the head and neck area, it later was learned Valdez actually stabbed at Bailey. However the shank struck a metal insignia that was attached to Bailey’s uniform near his neck.

Rivas then allegedly attacked Bailey who was on the floor by this time, stabbed him several times in the chest with a sharpened toothbrush and punched him in the ribs. But Bailey suffered only bumps and bruises because his memo pad prevented the sharpened toothbrush from penetrating his body.

Bailey and three other officers who were injured in the fight were treated at a local hospital and released.

Four prison units were locked down for several days.

Rivas is awaiting trial June 17 on a charge of first-degree assault.

Terry McConn can be reached at terrymcconn@wwub.com or 526-8319.


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