Nob Hill Court Homicides

Preliminary hearing rescheduled for suspect in six Modesto deaths

A judge on Monday rescheduled a preliminary hearing to start Sept. 14 for a Modesto man charged with murder in a toddler’s death and suspected in five other homicides.

Authorities say Martin Martinez, 30, is the lone suspect in the deaths of his girlfriend, her two children, his mother and an unnamed 5-year-old girl last month. But he has been charged only with murder and child abuse causing death in the Oct. 2 death of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son, Christopher Ripley.

Prosecutors have declined to say when they will file charges in the July 18 slayings of the other five people: Martinez’s girlfriend, Dr. Amanda Crews, 38; their daughter, 6-month-old Rachael; Crews’ daughter, 6-year-old Elizabeth; his mother, Anna Brown Romero, 57; and a 5-year-old girl believed to be Martinez’s niece.

The two women and three children were found dead inside a two-story house on Nob Hill Court in a northeast Modesto neighborhood.

Initially, Martinez’s preliminary hearing was scheduled to begin Friday.

On the advice of his attorney, Martinez waived his right to have a preliminary hearing within 10 court days of his July 23 arraignment. But the defendant didn’t waive his right to have that hearing within 60 court days of his arraignment. That means Martinez’s preliminary hearing has to be scheduled by Sept. 21.

Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova scheduled the hearing to start Sept. 14. The preliminary hearing, used to determine whether there is enough evidence for the defendant to stand trial, is estimated to last two to three days.

The attorneys are scheduled to return to court Monday to determine whether all the witnesses expected to testify will be available for the September hearing. If not, the hearing could be postponed again. The judge said Martinez will not be required to attend next week’s pretrial hearing.

Stephen Foley, Martinez’s attorney, told the judge that he does not yet know if the defense-hired forensic pathologist will testify in the preliminary hearing. Foley said he has not been able to speak to the pathologist. The defense attorney will need to discuss the pathologist’s findings before deciding to call him to the witness stand.

Córdova told the attorneys the preliminary hearing will begin each day promptly at 8:30 a.m. because of courthouse security issues. The judge has said sheriff’s officials need to clear out the inmate tunnel from the downtown Modesto to the courthouse when Martinez is brought to the courtroom.

Martinez was arrested in San Jose in the early hours of July 19. An arrest warrant for Martinez indicates Christopher suffered a head injury Sept. 30 and died at a hospital two days later.

Day care workers documented three previous injuries the boy had suffered around the time the child started potty training while under the care of Martinez, according to the warrant.

Crews denied Martinez caused the injuries but acknowledged he was present during two of them. Martinez was alone with Christopher when he suffered his fatal head injury. Modesto police Detective Phil Owen says Martinez’s story about how Christopher was injured changed several times during the investigation, according to a written declaration used to obtain the warrant.

Two days before the five people were found dead inside the house on Nob Hill Court, detectives received verbal notification from a medical expert who determined Christopher’s death was a homicide. The expert reported that the “method of death was consistent with Christopher’s head hitting the tile floor as a result of abuse,” reads the warrant.

Rosalio Ahumada: 209-578-2394, @ModBeeCourts

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