Prosecutors Decide Portland Man Committed No Crime by Killing His Landlord With a Sword

The landlord, armed with a hammer and pellet gun, had snuck into his rental property in a Michael Myers costume.

Autumn leaf in Portland puddle. (Motoya Nakamura / Multnomah County)

In a scene befitting a horror film, a man was left dead in a September dispute with his tenants in Northeast Portland.

Justin Valdivia, 46, was fatally stabbed in the living room of a squat four-bedroom house in the Eliot neighborhood, prosecutors say, after sneaking into the home he owned dressed as Michael Myers, the villain in the slasher flick Halloween.

Last week, WW obtained a memo from the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office justifying prosecutors’ conclusion that the killing was self-defense.

The origins of the dispute that led to Valdivia’s death Sept. 15 are not clear. But the memo lays out a bizarre story while explaining why prosecutors declined to charge anyone involved.

Valdivia, the owner of the property, lived with his wife in a second home recently built at the back of the lot. He rented the front house to four tenants, each paying $750 per month. The man who stabbed him was a former tenant who had just moved out and was now staying in the house as a guest, prosecutors said.

The relationship between Valdivia and his tenants had deteriorated in the weeks prior to the killing. Valdivia had threatened them with a knife, according to police reports reviewed by prosecutors. In a separate incident, Valdivia tried to break into the house while drunk at 4 am, according to the memo. One of the residents held him off from inside.

The guest had filmed the incidents and was afraid that Valdivia was trying to steal his phone and the videos it contained, according to prosecutors. Another tenant moved out in early September, fearing for his safety “due to Valdivia’s escalating behavior,” the memo states. The guest, however, stuck around.

But not without taking precautions. He kept a sword on hand and set up a “makeshift alarm” by leaning a painting against the back door and placing a shoebox on top so that “it would fall and create a lot of noise if the door was opened,” prosecutors noted.

The sword he wedged into the couch for easy access. The memo does not specify the type of sword, but office spokeswoman Elisabeth Shepard said it was “saberlike.”

On Sept. 15, the guest was watching YouTube in the living room. It was around 1 am when he heard the shoebox crash to the ground.

Valdivia, dressed as Michael Myers, had entered the backdoor using his key. He was wearing Myers’ iconic mask and a “blue Dickie’s jumpsuit.”

In his left hand was a hammer. In his right, a handgun.

Valdivia advanced toward the guest, who was still in the living room on the couch. Valdivia was blocking the door. There was nowhere to run, the memo states. The guest reached for the sword.

“A struggle then ensued,” according to prosecutors. The guest stabbed Valdivia, wrestled away his gun and threw it out of reach. Valdivia fell to the floor, unresponsive.

Another resident grabbed paper towels from the kitchen to stanch Valdivia’s bleeding and called 911. The two took turns performing CPR until the police arrived at 1:35 am. Paramedics pronounced Valdivia dead at the scene.

Near his body, investigators found a pellet gun painted black so that it “resembled a real firearm.”

Valdivia’s family disputes prosecutors’ characterization of the incident. Valdivia’s son, Daniel, said he was told by prosecutors in a meeting on Nov. 4 that there was no struggle prior to Valdivia’s killing and that Valdivia had lowered the gun prior to being stabbed.

Daniel Valdivia also disputed prosecutors’ description of the room. He said it had multiple exits. He characterized the man as an “illegal squatter” who had provoked Valdivia by telling potential tenants on Craigslist to not rent from him.

Valdivia’s funeral was held in Phoenix. An obituary published last month in The Arizona Republic described Valdivia as a “lifelong musician and writer” who was known for his “movie-star good looks” and “obnoxious pranks.”

Both the detective and county prosecutor assigned to the case agreed the killing was justified. Valdivia was committing burglary while “wielding what appeared to be two dangerous and deadly weapons,” the memo states.

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