Martin Martinez on Monday afternoon pleaded not guilty to five counts of murder in connection with the deaths of his girlfriend, Amanda Crews, her two daughters, his mother and his niece last summer.
Prosecutors filed new murder charges against Martinez, who has already 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 five slayings occurred 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; Martinez’s mother, Anna Brown Romero, 57; and Martinez’s 5-year-old niece, Esmeralda Navarro. Rachael was Martinez’s daughter.
It took prosecutors nearly seven months to formally charge Martinez with the five homicides. John Goold, a spokesman for the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office, said authorities were analyzing evidence collected from the crime scene, which took time.
He said prosecutors wanted to wait until the evidence could be examined at crime labs. “It was a big crime scene, very complex,” Goold said outside the courthouse after Monday’s arraignment hearing.
Prosecutors believe Martinez killed Crews and his mother with a knife. The criminal complaint filed Monday includes knife enhancements in the deaths of Crews and Romero. Those enhancements do not appear on the murder charges for the children. Goold said he could not comment about the manner of death for the children found at the Nob Hill Court home.
The special-circumstances allegations in the newly filed charges make the case eligible for the death penalty, but Goold said prosecutors have not decided whether they will seek the death penalty in Martinez’s case.
For now, the cases in the five slayings and Christopher’s death will be prosecuted separately. Goold said there’s always a possibility the cases could be consolidated in the future.
Martinez, 31, entered the courtroom wearing a red-and-white jail inmate jumpsuit with shackles on his wrists and his ankles. The defendant now has a full beard and his hair is slicked back. He sat quietly next to his attorney during the arraignment.
Chief Deputy Public Defender Sonny Sandhu has been appointed to represent Martinez. Sandhu entered the not-guilty plea on behalf of his client and denied the enhancements and special-circumstances allegations. Prosecutors allege Martinez acted with premeditation in the five homicides and was lying in wait.
Sandhu told the judge that prosecutors will hand over three binders filled with discovery evidence they have to provide the defense before proceeding with the case.
Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova scheduled Martinez to return to court Feb. 16 for a pretrial hearing. Martinez initially was supposed to be in court Monday so the judge could schedule a trial for the charges in Christopher’s death. That case, for now, will trail the case in the five homicides.
Since there’s the possibility prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Martinez, the defendant will be held at the county jail without bail. His previous bail in connection with Christopher’s death was set at $5 million.
Martinez since 2004 had worked as a stock/delivery clerk for the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency. Crews had worked as a doctor in Stanislaus County Health Services Agency clinics, most recently in Modesto.
About 3:30 p.m. July 18, police officers conducting a security check at the Nob Hill Court home discovered the five bodies. They had been called by Crews’ friends, who grew concerned after she and her daughter did not meet with them as planned earlier that day.
Martinez was found in San Jose, where he has family. San Jose police arrested Martinez as he walked out of a movie theater with his father several hours after the slayings were discovered in Modesto.
Modesto Police Chief Galen Carroll has said investigators were about two weeks away from arresting Martinez in Christopher’s death when the five other homicides occurred. Detectives had completed their investigation and were awaiting a report from a medical expert who reviewed Christopher’s death.
The boy suffered severe head injuries on Sept. 30, 2014, while he was alone with Martinez. The boy’s mother had left the home to pick up one of her daughters and had asked Martinez to change the boy’s soiled diaper.
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.
Sept. 30, 2014 – Amanda Crews’ son Christopher suffered severe head injuries while home alone with her boyfriend, Martin Martinez. The incident occurred on Pasadena Lane in Modesto.
Oct. 1, 2014 – Martinez told Modesto police Detective Phil Owen that he was on his knees playing with Christopher, flipping the boy back over Martinez’s shoulders when the child fell.
Oct. 2, 2014 – Christopher died at a Madera hospital after two days on life-support equipment. A child abuse expert and pediatrician at the hospital later testified that the boy’s brain had suffered severe swelling.
July 16, 2015 – A medical expert who reviewed Christopher’s death called the Stanislaus County Coroner’s Office to say it was a homicide. The report was being completed before being turned over to authorities so charges could be filed. Modesto Police Chief Galen Carroll has said detectives were about two weeks away from arresting Martinez in Christopher’s death.
July 18, 2015 – The bodies of Amanda Crews, 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, were found inside Crews’ home on Nob Hill Court.
July 19, 2015 – Martinez was arrested while leaving a movie theater with his father in San Jose. He was charged in Christopher’s death.
July 23, 2015 – Martinez pleads not guilty to charges in Christopher’s death. His bail is set at $5 million.
Sept. 14 - Sept. 24, 2015 – Evidence is presented during a preliminary hearing in the death of Christopher. A judge ordered Martinez, 31, to stand trial on murder and child abuse charges.
Feb. 8, 2016 – Martinez is charged in the deaths of Amanda Crews, her daughters, Rachael and Elizabeth; Martinez’s mother, Anna Brown Romero; and Martinez’s niece Esmeralda Navarro.