Nob Hill Court Homicides

Modesto death penalty case to begin with testimony from slain woman’s parents

A preliminary hearing for Martin Martinez, who is accused of killing his girlfriend, Amanda Crews, and four others, is expected to begin Monday with testimony from the Modesto woman’s parents.

The five slayings occurred July 18, 2015, at Crews’ home on Nob Hill Court in east Modesto. In addition to Crews, 38, the victims were her daughters, 6-month-old Rachael and 6-year-old Elizabeth; Martinez’s mother, Anna Brown Romero, 57; and Martinez’s 5-year-old niece, Esmeralda Navarro. Martinez was Rachael’s father.

Crews’ mother and stepfather are expected to testify in Stanislaus Superior Court Monday. After the parents’ testimony, the hearing is scheduled to continue on Jan. 22.

Martinez’s court-appointed attorneys on Aug. 2 asked the court to postpone next week’s hearing because they had just received a large amount of discovery evidence from the prosecution. The evidence was handed over in a digital format that is not accessible by the defense or the prosecution.

“We’re provided such a large amount of data at such a late time before the preliminary hearing starts,” Stanislaus County Public Defender Sonny Sandhu said in court on Aug. 2. “We don’t know whether or not this information is relevant.”

Deputy District Attorney Rick Mury told the judge that the prosecution has made it clear to the Public Defender’s Office through investigative reports what is contained in the three hard drives with nine terabytes of information.

Kimberly Crews, Crews’ twin sister, spoke in court, asking the judge not to grant the defense’s postponement request.

“It is very important to me and my family to move forward with this case in order to aid in our healing,” she told the judge. “Delays make it very difficult and prolong our pain.”

TESTIMONY CONTINUES NEXT YEAR

Judge Ricardo Córdova agreed to delay the hearing until Jan. 22, but he will listen to testimony from Crews’ parents on Monday. Her mother’s health concerns make it necessary for her to testify soon, the judge said, and her parents will be called back to the witness stand if there’s any information in the digital data relevant to their testimony.

The preliminary hearing, which is expected to last a few weeks, will conclude with the judge’s ruling. Córdova will determine whether there’s sufficient evidence for Martinez to stand trial.

The defendant remains in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Martinez. He has pleaded not guilty to five counts of murder.

CHILD ABUSE CASE

In a separate case, Martinez has been ordered to stand trial on charges of murder and child abuse in the Oct. 2, 2014, death of Crews’ 2-year-old son, Christopher Ripley. The trial in Christopher’s death has not been scheduled. That case has been set aside, for now, as the case in the 2015 killings moves forward.

Crews’ son suffered severe head injuries on Sept. 30, 2014, while alone with Martinez. The toddler died at a Madera children’s hospital after two days on life support. A child abuse expert and pediatrician at the hospital testified that the boy’s brain had suffered severe swelling. Bleeding also was found just outside the brain.

Police investigators were about two weeks away from arresting Martinez in Christopher’s death when the five other homicides occurred. The defendant was arrested in San Jose, several hours after the five bodies were discovered in the Modesto home.

Prosecutors believe Martinez killed Crews and his mother with a knife. The criminal complaint in the case includes knife enhancements in the deaths of Crews and Romero. Those enhancements do not appear on the murder charges for the children. Authorities have not said how they died.

Rosalio Ahumada: 209-578-2394, @ModBeeCourts

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