Nob Hill Court Homicides

Forensic pathologist details grisly manner of death in killing of 5 in Modesto home

The latest on the murder case: As Modesto doctor, four others were found dead, suspect attended barbecue, testimony says

When investigators entered a two-story house on Nob Hill Court in east Modesto nearly four years ago, they discovered five bodies and a grisly crime scene.

Amanda Crews and Anna Brown Romero had been brutally stabbed to death. And 6-month-old Rachael, 6-year-old Elizabeth and 5-year-old Esmeralda Navarro had been suffocated with plastic bags fastened around their necks.

Stanislaus County forensic pathologist Sung-Ook Baik testified Tuesday that Crews and Romero died from blood loss as a result of multiple stab wounds to their heads, faces, necks and extremities. They also suffered superficial cuts on their hands, consistent with defensive wounds.

Baik also said during a preliminary hearing for Martin Martinez that the children died from asphyxia.

Martinez, 34, faces five counts of murder in the deaths of his girlfriend, Crews; her two daughters, Rachel and Elizabeth; his mother, Romero; and his niece, Esmeralda. Testimony resumed this week in a preliminary hearing to determine whether there’s enough evidence for Martinez to stand trial.

Martinez has remained in custody in Stanislaus County Jail since the five people were found dead inside Crews’ east Modesto home on July 18, 2015.

Martin Martinez
Martin Martinez Modesto Police Department MPD

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.

The preliminary hearing in this case began in August 2017 with testimony that indicated that Martinez had a $2 bill with Crews’ blood when he was taken into custody in San Jose.

Baik conducted autopsies on the five slain over two days. He testified that a stab wound to right side of Crews’ neck cut her jugular vein and trachea.

On Martinez’s mother, the forensic pathologist found her jugular vein and a carotid artery had been cut from a stab wound.

On the children, Baik found no visible signs of injuries during an external examination of their bodies.

Baik found on the three girls evidence of pulmonary edema and cerebral edema, or swelling in their lungs and brains. These are signs of asphyxiation, Baik said.

Testimony in the hearing was expected to continue Wednesday and could end Thursday afternoon, before Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova issues his ruling.

The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office is seeking the death penalty against Martinez in the five slayings.

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Rosalio Ahumada writes news stories about criminal court cases in Stanislaus County for The Modesto Bee, issues related to immigration and immigrant communities and breaking news related to crime and public safety. From time to time, he covers the Modesto City Council meetings. He has worked as a news reporter in the Northern San Joaquin Valley since 2004.