Kimberly Crews took her seat at the witness stand Monday, stared at the man suspected of killing her twin sister and five others and shook her head with an apparent look of disdain.
Amanda Crews, 38, was found dead in July at her home on Nob Hill Court in east Modesto. Also found dead at the two-story house were her daughters, 6-month-old Rachael and 6-year-old Elizabeth; Martinez’s mother, Anna Brown Romero, 57; and a 5-year-old girl believed to be Martinez’s niece.
Authorities say Martinez, 31, is the lone suspect in the five deaths on July 18. But he has been charged only with murder and child abuse causing death in the Oct. 2, 2014, death of Crews’ 2-year-old son, Christopher Ripley.
Testimony in Martinez’s preliminary hearing began Monday morning. He walked into court with a full beard and with his hair slicked back. Testimony started with Kimberly Crews. She spoke about a physical dispute in May 2014 involving her sister and Martinez at a home on Pasadena Lane in central Modesto.
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At that time, Amanda Crews was living there with her children Elizabeth and Christopher. Martinez had an apartment on Oakdale Road in east Modesto, but he would visit his girlfriend and stay overnight from time to time.
Kimberly Crews said she got a call about 10 p.m. from her sister; she wasn’t allowed to testify what her sister told her. After the phone conversation, Kimberly and her husband went to the Pasadena Lane home. When they arrived, Amanda Crews was throwing Martinez’s belongings at him, Kimberly Crews said. Martinez then drove away.
During cross-examination, Kimberly Crews said she suggested her sister call police. “I wanted Martin Martinez arrested,” she said on the witness stand. But her sister didn’t report the incident.
The following day, Kimberly Crews spoke with her sister about the incident, but she stopped trying to convince her to call police. Martinez later reconciled with his girlfriend and returned to the home, living there full time.
Kimberly Crews said the incident led to a strained relationship with her sister for a couple of months, because she was told Martinez would not allow her to visit Amanda and the children at the Pasadena Lane home.
Defendant tells his side
On June 19, 2014, Amanda Crews brought Kimberly an audio recording from Martinez in which he explained to his girlfriend’s sister what happened during the dispute. The recording was played in court Monday morning.
Martinez said he was feeling frustrated and angry because his brother was on life support at a hospital. The brother eventually died. Martinez said he wanted to get out of the house, but Amanda Crews blocked his exit.
Martinez said in the recording that he pushed Amanda into a bathroom door, but she got up and started hitting him. When the struggle continued, he pushed her onto a bed, where he used his hand to hold her down by her neck.
Shortly before detailing the physical struggle with his girlfriend, Martinez said he trained with his brother, a mixed martial arts fighter, and also did some jiujitsu training when he was younger.
The defendant explained how his training had taught him how to break bones and apply chokeholds, “knowing how to choke people out.”
He also said he wasn’t trying to injure Amanda. “I never had any intentions to hurt her. ... I’m not an abusive person,” Martinez said in the recording.
The defendant said he just wanted his girlfriend to get out of the way and stop hitting him. He said that Amanda Crews was more violent that night than he was.
Martinez said in the recording that he was sorry that the May 2014 incident had strained his girlfriend’s relationship with her sister.
“I want Amanda to be happy,” Martinez told his girlfriend’s sister. “And I know that you in her life makes her happy.”
During cross-examination, Kimberly Crews said she had forgotten about Martinez’s audio recording. She remembered it not long after her sister and the others were found dead at the Nob Hill Court home. She handed the recording to investigators.
Kimberly Crews explained her initial reaction to listening to the audio recording. “I accepted his explanation of defending himself while trying to remove himself from that situation,” she said on the witness stand.
She started visiting her sister again on July 4, 2014, when Martinez invited her over to light some fireworks with the kids. Kimberly Crews testified that she and Martinez were “cordial” with another from then on, but their interaction never went beyond that.
Her relationship with her sister improved, but it was never the same as before the incident. She only spoke to her sister again about their strained relationship on the day Christopher, who was injured while in Martinez’s custody, was removed from life support.
Kimberly Crews fought back tears on the witness stand as she explained how her sister apologized for alienating her after the May 2014 incident. She testified that she and her sister moved on and that testified she saw Martinez only four times after Christopher’s death.
Little boy’s death detailed
Authorities say Christopher suffered a head injury Sept. 30 while home alone with Martinez and died at a hospital two days later.
Nick Anderson, a paramedic with American Medical Response, responded to a report of an unresponsive 2-year-old at the Pasadena Lane home. He testified that he arrived to Martinez flagging down the ambulance while standing outside and talking to a 911 dispatcher on the phone.
Martinez told the paramedic that he and the toddler were rough-housing when he swept the boy’s legs. The boy fell back and hit his head, Martinez said as he directed the paramedic into the house.
Anderson found the boy lying on his back on a bed in a back bedroom; the toddler’s pregnant mother was sitting next to him holding his head firmly. Amanda Crews told the paramedic she was a medical practitioner at Doctors Medical Center.
He testified that Christopher’s skin was very pale, and his breathing was irregular and shallow. He pinched the boy’s skin, but the toddler did not respond. The mother told Anderson that she came home and found the child walking “wobbly” or unstable, and that Christopher had vomited before he became unresponsive.
Martinez was in the bedroom as the paramedic examined the boy. Anderson testified that the mother was doing most of the talking, while Martinez was quiet. “He seemed concerned but not overly emotional,” Anderson said about the defendant.
The paramedic said he wasn’t told where the fall occurred in the home. Anderson described the mother as calm with no emotion; he thought it was unusual. But in about 20 years working on an ambulance, Anderson said he doesn’t remember responding to an emergency with a physician living in the home.
Susan Becerra, who used to work at a day care facility Christopher attended, testified Monday afternoon that the boy was once brought to school with bruises near his eye and a swollen, cut lower lip. But she couldn’t remember when she took photos of Christopher with the injuries.
Amanda Crews told Becerra that Christopher had been injured falling in a bathtub. Becerra said Christopher was a sweet, gentle boy, and she never saw him rough-housing with others at school.
She testified the boy would run with open arms to greet his father or mother when they arrived to pick him at the day care facility. But when Martinez was going to get Christopher, “He would just cling to me and cry,” Becerra said on the witness stand.
During cross-examination, Becerra said her work schedule varied, so she wasn’t there some days when Christopher was dropped off at the day care facility, and she wasn’t there some days when he was picked up.
Testimony in the preliminary hearing could resume Wednesday afternoon, depending on the availability of Martinez’s attorney, who is finishing a lengthy double-homicide trial. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge will decide whether there’s enough evidence for Martinez to stand trial.
When she was on the stand, Kimberly Crews stared at Martinez during breaks in testimony. In an earlier interview, she said she plans to attend as many hearings as she can.
“I want to represent her,” she said of her sister. “I want him to see my face, and I want him to see her face in my face.”