A Stanislaus County judge on Thursday decided there was sufficient evidence for Martin Martinez to stand trial in the deaths of his girlfriend, Amanda Crews, her two daughters, his mother and his niece.
The bodies of the women and children were found inside a two-story house on Nob Hill Court in east Modesto nearly four years ago. The women were stabbed to death, and the children were suffocated with plastic bags over their heads, according to testimony from a forensic pathologist.
Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova determined there was enough evidence to support a probable cause finding. Martinez is alleged to have committed the murders with premeditation and while hiding or waiting for the victims. The judge’s ruling ended Martinez’s four-day preliminary hearing.
Martinez, 34, is charged with five counts of murder in the deaths of Crews, 38; 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.
Martinez also faces enhancements for allegedly using a knife to kill Crews and his mother. The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office is seeking the death penalty against Martinez.
Córdova said a blood stain found on a $2 bill that Martinez had in his pants pocket when he was taken into custody in San Jose was a significant factor in his ruling.
On Thursday morning, DNA analyst Gordon Wincott testified that the blood on the $2 bill matched a blood sample from Crews.
Martinez’s preliminary hearing in this case began in August 2017 with testimony from Crews’ mother and stepfather, who would hand out $2 bills to family members as a tradition. Crews was given one of these $2 bills, which she kept in her wallet as a keepsake, according to prosecutors.
The judge told the attorneys that the $2 bill was a significant piece of evidence that could place Martinez at the crime scene.
“Two-dollar bills are not rare, but they’re not common,” Córdova said.
Martinez remains in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail. The judge scheduled him to return to court June 6 for an arraignment hearing. The next step for the court will be to schedule a trial.
Before the judge’s ruling, the attorneys presented closing arguments Thursday afternoon.
Maureen Keller and Clifford Tong of the Stanislaus County Public Defender’s Office represent Martinez. Chief Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees and Deputy District Attorney Rick Mury are prosecuting.
Keller told the judge that there are no witnesses linking Martinez to the crime scene, and the prosecution didn’t present any direct evidence linking Martinez to the murders. She said the prosecution has only presented “circumstantial evidence”.
Keller argued that there’s no evidence detailing how blood got on the cash found in Martinez’s pocket.
Rees argued that the blood-stained $2 bill directly connects Martinez to the crime scene, considering the significance of the family’s tradition.
Another factor in the judge’s decision to order a trial for Martinez was testimony earlier this week about Martinez’s frustration over visitation rights to see his infant daughter, Rachael.
Hours before the five bodies were found at the home in the 2600 block of Nob Hill Court, Crews — a Modesto doctor — was at a training session for work that ended about noon that day, according to testimony from one of her colleagues.
About 1 p.m. that same day, Martinez arrived at the Modesto home of a friend, Jennifer Silveira. She had been gone on vacation with her family for about a week, and Martinez had been caring for her dog at his apartment. She said Martinez arrived at her home to drop off her dog.
“He just seemed a little bit anxious to get going,” Silveira said. “He said he was going to San Jose ... to visit his family.”
Silveira had known Martinez for about 13 years. She testified that Martinez had been “upset and disappointed” about the time he was allowed to visit his infant daughter.
“Just that it was hard for him, because it was supervised visitation,” Silveira said on the witness stand.
Silveira said Martinez previously had told her his visitation time to see Rachael had been reduced. She said Martinez also discussed how his mother was spending time with Crews and his daughter, yet he wasn’t. Silveira testified that Martinez felt he wasn’t going to have a significant role in his daughter’s life.
At the time of the July 2015 slayings, police were investigating the Oct. 2, 2014, death of 2-year-old Christopher Ripley, Crews’ son, and were getting close to arresting Martinez for his suspected involvement in the toddler’s death. Martinez has since been ordered to stand trial on charges of murder and child abuse in that case, which has been set aside as the case in the 2015 killings moves forward.
On Thursday, the judge said testimony from Martinez’s aunt, Rosalie Amezquita, also was a factor in his decision.
Modesto police discovered the five bodies at Crews’ home about 3:30 p.m. on July 18, 2015. That same afternoon, Martinez unexpectedly arrived in San Jose, so his relatives gathered at Amezquita’s home for a family barbecue.
The aunt testified that her brother, Martinez’s father, was crying that evening, telling her that Martinez was going to commit suicide. She told investigators that her brother told her that Martinez did something that was going to send him to prison for the rest of his life. Her testimony didn’t indicate that she was told what her nephew had done.