Martin Martinez has been ordered to stand trial in the death of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son, Christopher Ripley. But the court now has to decide who will represent the defendant in court.
The defendant cannot afford to retain Stephen Foley for the trial. Foley, Martinez’s attorney in the five-day preliminary hearing, asked the judge to appoint him to represent the defendant. That means the taxpayers would pay for Foley to defend Martinez.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees on Wednesday morning cautioned the court about considering whether to appoint Foley. The prosecutor told the judge it’s possible Foley could be called as a witness to testify in Martinez’s trial.
Rees said in court that Foley was hired by the toddler’s mother, Amanda Crews – who has since been killed – to represent Martinez. Christopher died Oct. 2, 2014. Foley has represented Martinez from the onset of the Modesto police investigation into the boy’s suspicious death, which went for several months.
In last month’s preliminary hearing, Modesto police Detective Phil Owen testified that Crews was cooperative with the investigation, but she appeared to be overlooking the facts that pointed to Martinez as the person responsible for her son’s death. He said the mother was reluctant to believe Martinez hurt Christopher.
On July 18, Crews, 38, was found dead at her home on Nob Hill Court in east Modesto. Also found dead that day at the two-story house were her daughters, 6-month-old Rachael and 6-year-old Elizabeth; Martin Martinez’s mother, Anna Brown Romero, 57; and a 5-year-old girl believed to be Martinez’s niece. Rachael also was Martinez’s daughter.
While authorities have said Martinez is the suspect in the five deaths, prosecutors have not said when they will file charges against him. Martinez has been formally charged only with murder and child abuse in Christopher’s death.
Christopher suffered severe head injuries Sept. 30, 2014, while he was alone with Martinez. The boy’s mother had left the home to pick up her daughter and had asked Martinez to change the boy’s soiled diaper. Christopher died at a Madera children’s hospital after two days on life-support equipment. 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.
Wednesday, the prosecutor told the judge that Crews had discussions with Foley while the attorney was representing Martinez. Rees argued those conversations might be introduced into the trial, so Foley could be called to the witness stand to testify about them. “We wouldn’t want that to happen in the middle of a murder trial,” she said about a defense attorney testifying in his client’s own trial.
Foley said the District Attorney’s Office should file a motion to remove him from the trial or argue about the admissibility of evidence, but Wednesday was not the day to argue over those issues. The attorney said the defendant was in court to be arraigned on the charges he’ll face in his trial.
Foley argued he should be appointed now to represent Martinez because of his familiarity with the case. He told the judge that would be the most expeditious option that would guarantee the defendant’s right to a fair and speedy trial. There was some indication in court Wednesday that Martinez would refuse to waive his right to a trial within 60 days of arraignment.
PUBLIC DEFENDER APPOINTED
Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova told the attorneys that Martinez’s case first will be assigned to the county’s Public Defender’s Office. If the public defender has a conflict of interest, Martinez’s case then will go to a local law firm that is used in such situations.
If the local firm also has a conflict of interest, the judge said the court will choose from a panel of attorneys. Córdova said he will then consider Foley for appointment in Martinez’s case.
Foley, on behalf of Martinez, asked the judge to postpone Wednesday’s arraignment. Córdova granted the defense request, scheduling Martinez to return Oct. 16 for his continued arraignment. The defendant remains in custody at the county jail.
The Public Defender’s Office first will determine whether it has any conflicts of interest, which it should be able to do by next week’s court hearing.