Recently, Valerie Wilson’s 11-year-old daughter wanted to have a friend over, but the friend declined.
“I can’t come over,” the friend told Wilson, “because my mom says you stabbed somebody.”
That’s the new reality for Wilson, who was accused in October of stabbing her then-boyfriend Serapio Garcia in their Mendenhall Valley apartment. Wilson contacted the Empire in May looking to share her side of the story.
Wilson, 49, has always maintained her innocence, and the original charge against her — first-degree felony assault — ended up being dismissed during her trial. Wilson pleaded guilty to a reduced misdemeanor, fourth-degree assault, on May 14. She didn’t have to serve any additional jail time after the guilty plea, as she had already spent more than a month in jail immediately after the incident.
Garcia, 52, suffered a deep stab wound in his chest near his right shoulder early on Friday, Oct. 12, according to the police report and court records. Garcia told police at the time and told a Juneau grand jury that Wilson was intoxicated and jumped on him in the middle of the night and stabbed him, according to the grand jury transcript.
“He said one thing and they ran with it,” Wilson said.
The trial ended after just one day because of the last-minute plea deal, but according to the audio of the opening statements and the evidence available in the case file, it’s clear that Wilson’s defense was that it was possible that Garcia stabbed himself. In Assistant Public Defender Eric Hedland’s opening statement, Hedland laid out a few reasons why it was highly unlikely that Wilson could have stabbed Garcia in the way that Garcia described.
Hedland hired Tara Godoy, a forensic nurse from Godoy Medical Forensics, Inc., to do a study about how Garcia’s odd stab wound might have occurred. Wilson is right-handed, and the cot Garcia was sleeping on was against the wall, so that even if she were to stab him there with her left hand, she would have to bring the knife down at an awkward angle to avoid hitting the wall, the report states.
But the report, which is included in the case file, also states that it would be awkward for Garcia to stab himself at that angle. There’s a diagram in Godoy’s report showing how one could stab oneself in the right shoulder with a knife in their right hand.
If Garcia had stabbed himself that night, it’s unclear why he would have done that. Wilson said in an interview that she’s not sure but maybe he wanted her out of the apartment. That’s just what happened, as Wilson spent about a month in jail after the incident, and she and her two daughters now live in a different apartment.
When reached via text message Friday, Garcia said he still maintains that Wilson stabbed him.
Wilson claims she was upstairs while Garcia was downstairs that night. They had just had an argument, and Garcia had called the police to try to take Wilson away, according to his testimony to the grand jury. Then Garcia called the police a little later, and was out in front of the apartment with the stab wound when police arrived, according to the police report.
Wilson was adamant at the time with officers and still holds that she was upstairs and came downstairs to find the bloody knife on the floor. She then picked it up and put it in the sink, she said, and police arrested her as she tried to ask them what was going on.
They took Garcia’s word immediately, she said. In an interview Thursday, Hedland said that first impression, that first story, continued to shape the case from then on out.
“I think most police officers and prosecutors are well intended,” Hedland said, “but we’re all susceptible to confirmation bias.”
Assistant District Attorney Bailey Woolfstead, who prosecuted the case, said in an interview Friday that once she saw all the evidence that the defense was going to present and once she heard Wilson’s story, she started working with Hedland for a plea deal.
“The reality is, I still think there’s a fair bit of information that supports Ms. Wilson stabbing Mr. Garcia,” Woolfstead said. “Again, the ethical question for us going into a case like that is, ‘What can I prove to a jury beyond any single reasonable doubt?’”
Wilson said she wasn’t happy that she had to plead guilty to something, but she understood that if they had gone through the whole trial, there wasn’t a 100 percent chance that the jury verdict would go her way. In the eyes of the law, Wilson is only guilty of a misdemeanor, but she’s still battling the public perception of being accused of the stabbing.
Above the fold on the front page of the Oct. 14, 2018 edition of the Empire, the headline read “Man stabbed with butcher knife” based on information released at the time. In his interviews with police, Garcia provided inconsistent statements about what kind of knife it was (a butcher knife versus a utility knife) and whether he saw Wilson with the knife in her hand.
Wilson’s name was in the seventh paragraph, which was just below the fold on the front page. Wilson lost her job at Breeze-In, her bank closed out her account and her daughters have endured months of uncomfortable conversations and accusations. She said her 18-year-old daughter has lost a considerable amount of weight due to the stress.
Meanwhile, Garcia keeps texting her, as Wilson showed during an interview. He continues to profess his love for her in the messages, and Wilson said she’s seen him drive near her new apartment. Meanwhile, Wilson continues to look for a job and is trying to clear her name.
“To me, for what it’s worth, the fact that she doesn’t want to move on quietly, that she wants her story out there, is circumstantial evidence of her innocence,” Hedland said.
Wilson gets emotional when she talks about the allegation that’s hung over her life for the past eight months. She and Garcia were together for three years, and now her name is tied to a crime that she’s adamant she didn’t commit.
“How he manipulated the system was just wrong,” Wilson said.
The case is closed and finished in the legal sense, and Garcia’s cut has healed, but for both him and Wilson, the emotional wound is still fresh. The truth about the night might never come out, but the events of that evening will continue to hang over them.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.