A judge on Wednesday scheduled a preliminary hearing Aug. 7 for a Modesto man suspected in five deaths and accused in a sixth.
Authorities say Martin Martinez, 30, is the prime suspect in the deaths of his girlfriend, her two children, his mother and an unnamed 5-year-old girl earlier this month. But he has only been charged with murder and child abuse causing death in the Oct. 2 death of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son, Christopher Ripley.
Prosecutors have declined to say when they will file charges in the July 18 slayings of the other five people: Martinez’s girlfriend, Dr. Amanda Crews, 38; their daughter, 6-month-old Rachael; Crews’ daughter, 6-year-old Elizabeth; his mother, Anna Brown Romero, 57; and a 5-year-old girl, believed to be Martinez’s niece.
The two women and the three children were found dead inside a two-story house in a northeast Modesto neighborhood.
On Tuesday morning, the defendant refused to waive his right to have a preliminary hearing within 10 court days of his arraignment. At the conclusion of a preliminary hearing, the judge would decide whether there’s enough evidence for the defendant to stand trial.
But the defendant can change his mind at his next scheduled court appearance Monday. The defense has hired a forensic pathologist. Stephen Foley, Martinez’s attorney, told the judge he would like to wait for the defense’s pathologist to review evidence gathered by prosecution before deciding whether to advise his client to waive his right to a preliminary hearing in a timely manner.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees told the judge that they expect Stanislaus County forensic pathologist Sung-Ook Baik to complete an autopsy report for Christopher later Wednesday. The prosecutor also said she would soon hand over more evidence to the defense attorney.
Rees is in the middle of a child sexual molestation trial. She asked the judge to schedule Martinez’s preliminary hearing Aug. 7, because she will likely be done with that trial by then.
Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova agreed, but he also scheduled Martinez to return to court Monday. Foley told the judge that he and his client could agree then to waive his right to a speedy preliminary hearing and cancel the Aug. 7 court date. If the Aug. 7 preliminary hearing stands, the attorneys estimate the hearing would last a few days.
Several relatives and friends of the victims were in the courtroom audience Tuesday, but they did not make any comments.
Authorities used a Ramey warrant to arrest Martinez in San Jose on July 19; this type of arrest warrant is obtained by police agencies directly from a judge, bypassing prosecutors to expedite the arrest.
The warrant includes a declaration from Modesto police Detective Phil Owen detailing allegations surrounding the boy’s death. Judge 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 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.