Melodie Walker died with the hands of a man she trusted wrapped around her throat.
Though she and Derrick Valentine had known each other for 20 years, even attended high school prom together, he wanted more from their relationship.
So he raped and choked her, prosecutors said, and when she tried to run, he strangled her.
On Friday, Clark County District Judge Michael Villani sentenced Valentine to serve 30 years to life in prison.
The judge considered whether Valentine’s behavior on the night of the killing was an aberration.
“Maybe it was,” Villani said. “But some conduct is so egregious that it requires punishment.”
During a daylong hearing, defense lawyers painted the 42-year-old Valentine as a god-fearing, church-going man who loves his family. He had no criminal history.
His pastor, William Mims, considered Valentine a church elder who worked with youth and was active in men’s fellowship.
“Derrick was someone I could call on,” Mims told the judge.
Walker, who worked as a support technician for the Metropolitan Police Department’s SWAT division, loved cats, cruises, family, friends and colleagues. At 35, she was an introvert before emerging from a shell and developing her life in Las Vegas, family members said.
“If there was anyone she disliked, she never shared that with her family,” said her stepfather, Joseph Jordan.
Valentine’s mother, Rosa Ophelia Valentine, told the judge her husband died when her son was 10, and she often struggled to make ends meet.
“Derrick saw the struggle,” she said. “He is a good young man that committed a mistake.”
A doctor testified that Derrick Valentine suffered from a brain disorder that might have caused him to snap.
Defense lawyer Edward Kane called Valentine a “salvageable human being.”
Walker’s biological father, Paul Walker, asked the judge to sentence Valentine to life without parole, saying the illness might move Valentine to kill again.
“It wouldn’t be so hurtful if I didn’t have to listen to what I had to listen to this morning,” he said. “It’s hurtful that she had to suffer the way she did. He tortured her.”
Melodie Walker looked up to Valentine, her family said.
In January 2010, he said he was headed to Las Vegas to see The Lion King. She asked him for help with her car.
He still wanted to be with her, even though she had moved to the valley years earlier and he still lived in California and was married.
He knew she wouldn’t let him, so he ripped off her bra and pulled down her pants.
She told him she needed water, and when he let her up, she tried to run.
She made it as far as the garage door, setting off a home security alarm, but she was trapped inside her northwest valley home.
He strangled her because he thought she would call police.
“The friend she let back into her life,” prosecutor Brad Turner said. “That’s the last thing she saw when she died.”
She scratched her own neck trying to pry Valentine’s thick hands, Turner said. Investigators found her broken fingernail in the kitchen where she was attacked.
“This was planned. It was motivated, and he knew her,” Turner said. “That’s why he did it.”
Valentine tried to clean up her blood. He called 911 and told a dispatcher the alarm was a mistake.
But an employee with the home security company was already on the way.
When Valentine met the worker at the door, he said he was alone and needed an ambulance, but asked the security company worker not to call the police.
The worker noticed Walker’s lifeless body inside. Valentine crawled back into the home, slapped her face and said “don’t die,” according to a police report.
Paramedics arrived and found Walker naked from the waste down. She had bruises on her neck and blood coming out of her mouth.
“When you choke to death, you suffer,” Villani said. “You know every minute of it. We need to have some justice here.”
Valentine cut a deal with prosecutors in September and pleaded guilty to sexual assault and murder to avoid the death penalty.
On Friday, he apologized to Walker’s family and his own, and he asked the judge for leniency.
“I am deeply sorry for the circumstances involving this case,” he said. “I know and I have cared for Melodie Walker since the day I met her. I violated her trust. I violated her space. I violated her temple. I’m wrong for that. I was wrong to even be there in the first place.”
Villani gave the defendant credit for the nearly five years he has served in the Clark County Detention Center since his arrest.
Valentine initially told investigators that “a tall, white male” entered the home and poured chemicals down his throat.
But when he realized he was caught, he told the truth.
He couldn’t wash away the blood.
So he sat with her body, he said, and drank from a bottle of bleach, hoping he would die.
Contact reporter David Ferrara at email@example.com or 702-380-1039. Find him on Twitter: @randompoker