FARMINGTON — The man accused of killing a Woods Cross Motel 6 night clerk more than seven years ago will spend six years to life in prison.
David Valken-Leduc, 25, was convicted Jan. 29 of first-degree murder in connection with the Oct. 29, 1996, death of Matthew John Whicker, a father of two who was 30 when he was shot multiple times and died in the motel lobby.
Second District Judge Glen R. Dawson sentenced Valken-Leduc in his Farmington courtroom Tuesday afternoon, also imposing a $10,000 fine and ordering restitution to be paid in an amount to be determined later.
Prosecutors said Valken-Leduc was the trigger man as he and two friends attempted to rob the motel. The jury agreed, deciding the state's evidence was compelling enough to convict Valken-Leduc, despite defense attorneys' insistence that the state's key witness could not be believed.
Valken-Leduc was the only witness in his defense, and he continued to insist he is innocent. He repeated that sentiment Tuesday in a statement read before the sentence was imposed.
"I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to the Whicker family," he said, calling John Whicker's death "tragic and senseless." He said he hoped Whicker's family can find "a sense of closure from this. On the other hand, I know I didn't do this."
But John Whicker's widow, Katrina Whicker, said after the hearing that the apology wasn't enough and that "there's no remorse whatsoever on his part."
She also read a statement in court before the sentence was read. She began by quoting a letter written by her 9-year-old daughter, who was 2 when John Whicker was killed.
"I am sad that you helped kill my dad," she read. "I am really sad without a dad in my family. Sometimes I feel lonely without a dad. . . . My heart hurts because you helped kill him. Please don't do a thing like that again to someone else."
But Valken-Leduc said his family, too, has suffered.
"My family's lost a brother, a mother and a son," Valken-Leduc said, referring to the recent death of his mother, Doris Valken-Leduc, which he said he believes was caused in part by the stress of his trial.
John Whicker's mother, Rea Whicker, said she was satisfied "with what I understood," referring to the legal jargon and technicalities involved in a court hearing. "I'm OK emotionally."
Valken-Leduc was the second person to be convicted in Whicker's death. The first, Todd Rettenberger, was the state's major witness in Valken-Leduc's trial. He testified that he drove Valken-Leduc and Elliot Rashad Harper, who is also charged with murder and will face trial in July, to the Motel 6 with plans to rob it.
As he stood outside watching Valken-Leduc and Harper confront Whicker inside, he said, something went wrong, resulting in a scuffle and then gunshots.
But defense attorneys have maintained that Rettenberger, who has twice pleaded guilty to manslaughter in Whicker's death, cannot be trusted. They charged that he told prosecutors what they wanted to hear in exchange for release from jail after spending 63 months there.
The defense said Rettenberger never mentioned Valken-Leduc as having had any part in the murder until a bloody fingerprint found at the motel was mistakenly identified as Valken-Leduc's. After the criminalist who had analyzed it was shot and killed by a rifle he was inspecting in a crime lab, the fingerprint was re-examined and was found to be Whicker's.
Valken-Leduc said he told his mother before she died that he takes some responsibility: "I chose to be acquainted with Todd Rettenberger. That's a mistake I made and I have to live with it."
Defense attorney Aric Cramer said he plans to appeal the conviction before the state Supreme Court. Among his contentions, he said Rettenberger's contradictory confessions should have been introduced to the jury "to impeach his credibility." He also objects to the prosecution making inconsistent allegations in its trials of Rettenberger and Valken-Leduc, saying he believes such discrepancies in the trials of co-defendants are unconstitutional.