Martin Martinez sat stoically next to his defense attorney Thursday afternoon in his first courtroom appearance.
Martinez, 30, has been in custody since early Sunday, and he was brought back to Modesto from a San Jose jail late Wednesday. The Modesto man is suspected in the weekend deaths of five people. But his arraignment Thursday was only on charges in the October death of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son, Christopher Ripley. The defendant is charged with murder and child abuse causing death.
Prosecutors have declined to say when they will file charges in the weekend slayings of the other five people: Dr. Amanda Crews; her two children, 6-year-old Elizabeth and 6-month-old Rachael; his mother, Anna Brown Romero, 57; and a 5-year-old girl believed to be his niece. Police found the bodies Saturday afternoon in a Nob Hill Court home in Village I, a middle-class subdivision in northeast Modesto; they were called to the house on a security check.
Timothy Ripley, Crews’ former husband, is the father of Christopher and Elizabeth. Crews, 38, and Martinez were the parents of Rachael. The relationship between Martinez and Crews at the time of her death is unclear. Modesto police Chief Galen Carroll has said it appears the two were still together, though Martinez had moved out of the home a couple of months ago.
Martinez was ushered into the courtroom wearing a red-and-white jail inmate jumpsuit and shackles on his wrists and ankles. He spoke only when Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova asked for the correct pronunciation of his first name.
Stephen Foley, Martinez’s attorney, entered a not guilty plea on the behalf of his client. Foley has declined to comment about the case.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees asked the judge to set Martinez’s bail at $5 million, citing a risk of him fleeing, and said there is an “extreme risk” to the public’s safety if he is released from custody.
Foley asked the judge to reserve a discussion over the bail amount to a later date when he has more information from prosecutors.
The judge set Martinez’s bail at $5 million for the time being. Córdova scheduled Martinez to return to court Wednesday for a pretrial hearing.
The defense attorney said in court that he had only received a copy of the Ramey warrant used to arrest Martinez in San Jose early Sunday. A Ramey warrant is obtained by police agencies directly from a judge, bypassing prosecutors to expedite the arrest.
The courtroom was crowded with court staff, prosecutors, news media, several bailiffs, and relatives and friends of the victims, including Timothy Ripley. They were ushered into the courtroom separately, and they left the courthouse without making any statements.
‘They were trying to reconcile’
Crews’ stepfather, Ron Beidleman of Fallon, Nev., said in a phone interview Thursday that his stepdaughter and Martinez had broken up after Christopher’s death.
“They were trying to reconcile,” Beidleman said, “but it was not going well.”
Family members were ushered into and out of court for Martinez’s arraignment and could not be reached for comment. But Beidleman said, “We are just devastated that we lost so many lives.” He added that the family has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of condolences. Beidleman said he was Crews’ stepdad for 31 years and she has a sister and brother.
The Ramey warrant used to arrest Martinez includes a declaration from Modesto police Detective Phil Owen detailing allegations surrounding the boy’s death. Córdova reviewed the detective’s declaration and signed the Ramey warrant.
Christopher suffered a head injury Sept. 30 and died at a hospital two days later. Day care workers documented three previous injuries the boy had suffered around the time the child started potty training while under the care of Martinez, according to the warrant.
Crews denied that Martinez caused the injuries but acknowledged that he was present during two of them. Martinez was alone with Christopher when he suffered his fatal head injury. The detective wrote in the declaration that Martinez’s story about how Christopher was injured changed several times during the course of the investigation.
Two days before the five people were found dead inside the house on Nob Hill Court, detectives received verbal notification from a medical expert who determined Christopher’s death was a homicide. The expert reported that the “method of death was consistent with Christopher’s head hitting the tile floor as a result of abuse,” reads the warrant.
John Goold, a spokesman for the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office, said they will not discuss specific facts about the murder case in the boy’s death, and they will not discuss when they expect to file charges in the past weekend’s slayings.
“I cannot comment on a pending investigation,” Goold said to a group of news reporters outside the courthouse after Thursday’s hearing.
Carroll has said police were about two weeks away from arresting Martinez in Christopher’s death when the weekend homicides occurred. Detectives had completed their investigation and were awaiting a report from a medical expert who reviewed Christopher’s death.
The expert called the Stanislaus County Coroner’s Office July 16 to say Christopher’s death was a homicide. The report was being completed before being turned over to authorities so charges could be filed.
Carroll said detectives obtained the Ramey warrant Saturday after the homicides to pick up Martinez, who had gone to San Jose, where he has family. San Jose police arrested him early Sunday as he walked out of a movie theater with his father.
Martinez has worked as a stock/delivery clerk for the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency since 2004. The county confirmed Thursday that Martinez still is an employee. Crews had worked as a doctor in HSA clinics, most recently in Modesto. Friends and family members have described Crews as a talented, caring doctor.
Sheriff Adam Christianson noted that Martinez and Crews could not access the coroner’s office computers because they are not accessible by other county computer systems. He added that the medical expert called the coroner’s office with her finding that Christopher’s death was a homicide.
When the judge scheduled Martinez’s next court hearing, he said he would like to call up Martinez’s case immediately, because his appearances will create a burden on sheriff’s officials providing security. The judge said officials had to clear the inmate tunnel from the downtown Modesto jail to the courthouse to ensure the defendant’s safety. He said that will have to happen each time Martinez is brought to court, essentially bringing the courthouse to a standstill.
As spectators entered the courtroom Thursday, court staff scanned each person with a metal-detector wand, an unusual security measure. Generally, people are scanned only once, when they enter the courthouse.
Christianson said for his safety, Martinez is being housed at the county’s Public Safety Center.
“Typically in cases involving the death of a child, we take those additional steps because criminals themselves, within their own culture, are not widely accepting of people who kill children,” Christianson said in an email. “This is a normal precautionary measure that we take to ensure the safety and security of our facilities, which includes staff and inmates.”
Christianson said Martinez is “not being treated any differently than we would treat any other homicide suspect who finds himself in the same or similar circumstances.”
Bee staff writers Kevin Valine and Erin Tracy contributed to this report.