SF Trans Woman Faces Life in Prison
A transgender San Francisco woman with a criminal history stretching back more than 20 years could be sentenced to life in prison after being charged in a November 2011 home burglary.
Felipe Valdez-Tejera, 51, was on parole when she allegedly entered the home of a sleeping Russian Hill couple, whose baby was about three months old and also in the residence.
In late June, she pleaded not guilty in San Francisco Superior Court to felony charges of first-degree residential burglary, and receiving or buying stolen property.
She has denied all allegations in the case.
Valdez-Tejera has been convicted of similar crimes three times before, which would make this her fourth strike. Under California’s three strikes law, she could have already been sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Deputy Public Defender Sangeeta Sinha said after years of physical abuse and drug addiction, Valdez-Tejera, who’s originally from Cuba, is finally seeking help and should get a chance at treatment.
Most recent incident
According to the police report, an officer responded to the alleged burglary at about 3 a.m. November 17.
The 32-year-old victim reported that he was awakened by his wife’s scream, saw Valdez-Tejera, and chased her out of the house, which is in the 1400 block of Green Street. When he got outside, she had a brown shoulder bag that held two laptops, according to the police report. She and the victim eventually ran toward responding police and Valdez-Tejera was soon taken into custody.
Sinha is hoping Valdez-Tejera will be permitted to enter treatment rather than go to prison. For that to happen, she’d have to be granted probation.
"She’s never had an option of treatment while she’s been incarcerated," Sinha said.
Sinha provided a copy of a May 14 letter from Haight Ashbury Free Clinics-Walden House, a local agency that provides substance abuse treatment and other services, saying that Valdez-Tejera has been accepted into its residential program. The letter says, "Walden House is a six months to variable length program." A Walden House staffer didn’t verify that the agency had submitted the letter.
"Neither I nor Felipe is naive enough to believe she wouldn’t have a state prison sentence suspended over her head as an incentive to comply with probation, and as punishment if she did not," said Sinha, who said that seeking Walden House was Valdez-Tejera’s idea.
Sinha acknowledged that Valdez-Tejera has had years to get help.
"I think before we as a justice system are going to, in essence, wash our hands of someone and throw them away in the prison system, I think we have an obligation to try to offer services or a program," she said.
Sinha said Valdez-Tejera "has seen much tragedy in her life," and she’s "a person to whom life has been very cruel."
In an interview Monday, July 9, in San Francisco County jail, where she is being held without bail, Valdez-Tejera said, "I’m not evil," and talked about her past.
As a boy in Cuba, she put on make-up and was attracted to men. She described mistreatment, including physical abuse, by her family, and she indicated that her mother told her that she wished she’d never given birth to her. Sinha said Valdez-Tejera was arrested when she was 15 and spent several years in prison because of her sexual orientation.
Sinha said that in 1980, Valdez-Tejera became part of the Mariel boatlift, during which thousands of people, including inmates who’d been released from prisons and mental institutions, were allowed to leave Cuba. Sinha said the description of Valdez’s life in Cuba was self-reported and records were unavailable.
Valdez-Tejera moved to Minnesota, began the process of changing her gender, and married a man who physically abused her and stabbed her, said Sinha.
She had engaged in self-mutilation since she was 12, and was also hospitalized for psychiatric treatment, said Sinha. Valdez-Tejera said she’d attempted suicide three times, and she pulled back her left sleeve to reveal numerous pale white scars. She said she’d also been raped four times in her life.
Valdez-Tejera moved permanently to San Francisco in 1986. She soon started building a list of criminal cases, according to information provided by Sinha.
In 1987, she was sentenced to probation and 11 days in jail for a misdemeanor petty theft conviction. Several other convictions followed, including three felony convictions for first-degree burglary. Most recently, in 2005, she was sentenced to eight years in state prison.
In Monday’s interview, Valdez-Tejera said that she’d also prostituted herself and worked in pornography. She’s been working on her still rough English, and frequently responded to questions with Sinha’s help. Sinha prohibited questions about the current case.
When she was asked about why she should have a chance now, Valdez-Tejera talked about using too many drugs. She said she’d used speed, crack, heroin, and pills.
She said she wants to stop her criminal activity, and she’s "too old" to still be going in and out of jail.
But Valdez-Tejera’s hopes of receiving probation and a suspended sentence in her current case could prove difficult.
"This is definitely not a probation case," said Alex Bastian, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office. "Based on the totality of circumstances, that type of disposition for this case is inappropriate."
Bastian said he couldn’t comment on how Valdez-Tejera has gone this long without being sentenced to life in prison.
But as to not giving Valdez-Tejera a chance as she finally seeks treatment, Bastian said, "She has had numerous chances in life to get her act together."
The next hearing in the case is set for Monday, July 16 for a pre-trial conference. August 24 has been scheduled as the date for jury trial.