Crime

Suspect in Modesto homicides faces charges in October death of 2-year-old boy

Memorial for five victims of apparent homicide

Ashley Whatley talks about why she visited a memorial at the scene of an apparent homicide on Nob Hill Court in Modesto on Monday, July 20, 2015. (Joan Barnett Lee/jlee@modbee.com)
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Ashley Whatley talks about why she visited a memorial at the scene of an apparent homicide on Nob Hill Court in Modesto on Monday, July 20, 2015. (Joan Barnett Lee/jlee@modbee.com)

Police say the man suspected in the weekend deaths of his girlfriend, their infant daughter and three other family members in a Village I home is facing a murder charge in the October death of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old boy.

Martin “Marty” Martinez, 30, was arrested early Sunday in San Jose after driving there from Modesto, according to authorities. He is being held without bail in Santa Clara County’s Main Jail South Complex on what is called a Ramey warrant in the Oct. 2 death of 2-year-old Christopher Ray Ripley.

Modesto Police Chief Galen Carroll said Monday that police have no reason to believe Martinez knew late last week that police were closing in on him in their investigation of the boy’s death and ahead of the weekend’s carnage.

Modesto police released the names of the two women who died Saturday: Dr. Amanda Crews, 38, and Martinez’s mother, Anna Brown Romero, 57. Friends and family have said Crews’ two daughters, 6-year-old Elizabeth and 6-month-old Rachael, were among the victims. Crews and Martinez were the parents of Rachael. Carroll said the fifth victim is believed to be Martinez’s 5-year-old niece. Her name was not available.

Officers discovered the bodies Saturday afternoon in a Nob Hill Court home, just north of Floyd Avenue and Lincoln Oak Drive, in the middle-class Village I subdivision. Officers were at the home after receiving a request for a security check. A friend grew concerned after Crews and her daughter failed to meet them after they had made plans. Carroll said detectives believe the women and children were slain Saturday. But he declined to release other details to safeguard the investigation.

Christopher was Crews’ son from her marriage to Timothy Ripley. Their divorce became final in October. Carroll said that at the time of Christopher’s death, Martinez, Crews, her daughter Elizabeth and the boy were living together in a Pasadena Lane home.

Martinez was home alone with Christopher when the boy suffered a head injury Sept. 30, according to the warrant. The warrant states Martinez said he had been wrestling with Christopher when the boy was injured. Carroll said Christopher was admitted to a Modesto hospital with a head injury and then transferred to Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera, where he died.

Chief: Department ‘did not drop the ball’

Carroll said detectives have been investigating Christopher’s death and consulting with prosecutors. He said police received a verbal report late last week from a medical expert who concluded the boy’s death was a homicide. Carroll was asked at a Monday news conference whether the police had dropped the ball last week by not arresting Martinez then in Christopher’s death.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “The Modesto Police Department did not drop the ball. There has to be enough time to file a case. We had received a verbal indication Thursday and not the final report.”

He added at the news conference that it took time to find a qualified medical expert to review the boy’s death, and there was no indication or warning of the weekend’s carnage. While police have reported that Crews and Martinez were no longer a couple at the time of her death, Carroll said in an interview that it appeared the two were still together.

Carroll said Martinez had been living with Crews and the children at the Nob Hill Court home until a couple of months ago when he had to move out because of a protective order issued by Child Protective Services regarding Christopher’s death. Carroll said Crews was supportive of Martinez and that police had not been to the house on domestic violence calls. Martinez’s mother apparently had been living at the home.

Alisha Suarez, who lived next door to Martinez and Crews when the couple lived on Pasadena, said detectives came to the home the evening Christopher was injured. They said they were investigating the incident and asked about her neighbors’ parenting skills and whether she’d seen them punish the children. Suarez said she hadn’t heard anything and never saw the police at the house until they showed up that night.

Suarez said she didn’t know a little boy lived there. She only saw the little girl and spoke to her once. She never spoke with Crews and the one time she said hello to Martinez, she said he ignored her. She saw Crews leave the house in her car about 15 minutes after the ambulance left the day her son was injured. She only saw Crews once after that. Crews was with Martinez and he was crying.

Crews’ friends have said Martinez worked at Stanislaus County’s Health Services Agency, and Carroll said he believed Martinez still was employed there as a medical courier. Friends have said Crews worked as a doctor at HSA clinics, most recently in Modesto.

According to the county, Crews graduated from the Stanislaus Family Medicine Residency Program in June 2006, then worked for the county Health Services Agency from July 2006 to July 2008. She joined the Scenic Faculty Medical Group in September 2008 as a partner and continued to provide physician services at Health Services Agency clinics.

Court records reflect volatile relationships

Friends and family members described Crews as a talented, caring doctor. But court records depict a tumultuous history with partners. A divorce proceeding with former husband Timothy Ripley includes allegations of drug use against him; Ripley in turn is alleged to have told Elizabeth Ripley that Martinez was responsible for Christopher’s death. Ripley could not be reached for comment.

Carroll said detectives sought the warrant over the weekend from a judge after the Nob Hill Court deaths because they feared Martinez would flee. The warrant gives prosecutors until Thursday to file charges or Martinez will be released. Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager said in an email that prosecutors plan on filing charges before the deadline.

Carroll said Martinez is the suspect in the Nob Hill Court deaths. But he said the investigation is in the early stages and that detectives have a lot of ground to cover. He said Martinez has declined to speak with detectives. An attorney believed to represent Martinez did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Family member talks about Martinez

San Jose police found Martinez’s red Lincoln Navigator near a relative’s home just before 10 p.m. Saturday, but learned Martinez had left with a family member in another vehicle.

San Jose officers found the second vehicle, unoccupied, in the parking lot of the Westfield Oakridge shopping mall in South San Jose early Sunday, and about 1 a.m. they arrested Martinez as he walked back to the vehicle. Carroll said Monday that Martinez was accompanied by his father and was leaving a movie theater.

On the sidewalk in front of the Martinez house in East San Jose, the suspect’s cousin, Gina Martinez, told news reporters Monday that he took his father to the movies without saying anything out of the ordinary. “My uncle didn’t know anything that had happened,” she said. “He didn’t tell him anything. Everything was just normal.”

Gina Martinez said the father and other relatives were “shocked” to hear the news early Sunday morning. “We have no idea if he did it,” Martinez, 44, said about the murders. “We don’t know. He’s innocent until proven guilty. … I just want to see him, ask him what’s going on. What’s happening here?”

She said the suspect lived in San Jose until he was 5 or 6 years old, when his father moved the family out of Silicon Valley. At some point, she said, Martinez’s brother moved with their father to Idaho, where the brother died. Gina Martinez said the death of his brother in Idaho affected Martinez greatly, but she declined to name the brother or say how he died.

Older by 14 years, Gina Martinez said she didn’t know her cousin well enough to talk about his parents’ divorce. But she said he loved Crews and their baby daughter. “She’s a baby. She’s innocent. Whoever did this. We don’t know yet,” she said. “He loved his family, loved his family. He was a generous, loving person.”

Bee staff writers Erin Tracy and Rosalio Ahumada, Bee Senior Research Specialist Karen Aiello and the San Jose Mercury News contributed to this report.

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