Sword Death of Portland Landlord in Slasher Mask Ruled Self-Defense


By the time Robert Bainter decided to move out of the four-bedroom Victorian house he shared in the Eliot neighborhood in early September, the 31-year-old tenant said he felt certain the landlord would eventually do something terrible.

For weeks, the landlord, Justin Valdivia, had been harassing Bainter by text, phone and email, Bainter said. Other tenants, who leased rooms in the home individually from Valdivia, also grew wary of him. Once, Valdivia tried to enter the Northeast Rodney Avenue rental at 4 a.m. without permission.

“People were on edge and staying up all night to make sure he wasn’t coming into the house,” Bainter said.

One of Valdivia’s four tenants, Stas Wallace, ended his lease Aug. 31 because he could no longer afford his room’s $750 rent. But he stayed in the house, couch-surfing in the home’s living room with tenants’ permission.

Within the month, the landlord would become Portland’s 69th homicide victim, killed after entering the house around 1 a.m. while wearing a slasher-film mask and carrying a hammer and a pellet gun painted black to look like a firearm, which he pointed at Wallace.

Afraid for his life, Wallace charged Valdivia and stabbed him in the chest with a sword he had borrowed for protection, police and prosecutors later said.

By early November, Portland detectives and the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office determined that Wallace acted in self-defense, and he would face no criminal charges. Wallace, through Bainter, declined to speak with The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Valdivia, 46, started looking for a new tenant after Wallace ended his lease. On Sept. 7, he showed the home to someone new, and Bainter – who was sitting in the living room – said he urged the person not to rent there.

Valdivia, who lived with his wife in a separate dwelling in the backyard of the property, overheard the comment. He left the house and returned with a 4-inch knife, drawing it from his pocket and swiping at Bainter twice from 2 feet away, Bainter said.

Bainter, who works as a mental health worker, said he and a roommate called 911 that evening to report the incident, and a dispatcher told them to contact the non-emergency number. An operator told them that Valdivia had already called to accuse Bainter of threatening him with a knife, not the other way around.

Valdivia then e-mailed Bainter a picture of an eviction notice he wrote by hand accusing Bainter of “perpetuating violent [and] threatening behavior and furthermore, blaming myself for exhibiting said behavior.” Under Oregon law, it wasn’t a valid notice, said Troy Pickard, a Portland lawyer who specializes in landlord-tenant law.

The next day, however, Valdivia reappeared at the front door around 4 a.m., drunk, and used his key to try to enter the house. Someone inside blocked the door, Bainter said.

Worried for his safety, Bainter decided to move out early. Before he left, he said he set up a “Goonies-style booby trap” – a cup of silverware and loose change balanced on planks of wood leaned against the backdoor – to alert other tenants if Valdivia tried to enter the house again.

Valdivia became angry when he learned that Wallace was sleeping in the living room, Bainter said.

What happened next comes from a Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office memo that Willamette Week first reported.

A clause in the tenants’ lease agreements allowed each person to host a guest for up to one week. But they were uneasy. They set up a new noise trap on the back door, and one of the tenants let Wallace borrow a sword “due to fear over Valdivia’s increasingly violent threats and behavior,” the memo said.

Around 1 a.m. on Sept. 15, Valdivia used his key at the backdoor to enter the rental, police and prosecutors said.

Valdivia, wearing a blue Dickie’s jumpsuit and a mask of the “Halloween” slasher-film character Michael Myers, ran from the backdoor to the living room, where Wallace was on the couch. Valdivia carried a hammer in his left hand and what appeared to be a handgun in his right, the memo said.

Valdivia pointed the firearm – later determined to be a pellet gun – at Wallace and demanded he hand over his cellphone, police and prosecutors said.

Wallace believed Valdivia wanted his phone because he had recorded video of Valdivia threatening tenants, the memo said. Instead of reaching for his phone, however, Wallace picked up the sword. The two men struggled, according to the memo, and Wallace stabbed Valdivia in the chest.

One of the tenants then emerged from his bedroom and rushed to the kitchen to get paper towels, which he pressed on Valdivia’s wound to stanch the bleeding. The pair called 911 and took turns doing chest-compressions on Valdivia until paramedics arrived and pronounced him dead, the memo said.

According to the memo, both prosecutors and detectives concluded the stabbing was self-defense and therefore not criminal.

By unlawfully entering the home with a purported firearm and demanding Wallace’s cellphone, Valdivia gave Wallace reason to believe Valdivia would use deadly physical force against him. The circumstances made the stabbing justifiable under Oregon law, the memo said.

Valdivia’s wife, Naomi, said Wallace had harassed her husband, including by writing a post on Craigslist alleging Valdivia was a sex offender who was preying on renters, she said. Bainter said Wallace didn’t write the post, but didn’t say who did.

Justin Valdivia had entered the home that night to make Wallace take down the posts, which his wife said were “defamatory.” Court records show Justin Valdivia was convicted of second-degree sexual abuse in 1996.

His intention was never to steal Wallace’s phone, she said.

Valdivia’s son, 27-year-old Daniel Valdivia, said police and officials from the district attorney’s office told him during a Nov. 4 meeting that his father had lowered the pellet gun before Wallace charged at him, a detail not included in the memo. Officials also never told them there was a “struggle” between the two men, he said.

The Multnomah County District Attorney’s office declined to comment through a spokesperson about the case.

“Believe me or don’t, Justin didn’t go into the house to hurt or kill anyone,” said Naomi Valdivia.

Nonetheless, it is generally a violation of Oregon law for a landlord to enter a tenant’s property without at least 24-hours notice, Pickard said.

Daniel Valdivia said his father had entered the house to intimidate Wallace, not to burglarize the home or hurt anyone.

His father was eccentric, funny and “loved dearly,” Daniel Valdivia said. “One of the most intelligent men I’ve ever met and probably the funniest,” he said. “He was kind of a conundrum of a guy – he would scream at you for not getting something right, but would also hang up people’s Christmas lights in the neighborhood.”

Until his death, he was playing drums in the Portland band Spirit Lake and was working on his first book, the family said.

“Even if he was in the wrong,” Daniel Valdivia said, “He knew what was right; it was just clouded. He wasn’t a weird landlord with a Halloween mask on – he was a human being.”

All of Bainter’s former housemates have since moved out, and Wallace remains “traumatized” by the stabbing, Bainter said.

“It wasn’t a malicious attack,” Bainter said, adding that Wallace is not a violent person. “He had a gun pointed at him, and if that’s not a moment where you feel you can defend yourself, I don’t know what is.”