Friday, January 15, 2010
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence in Santa Maria Rape, Murder
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously upheld the death sentence for a man convicted of brutally raping and killing a 25-year-old woman and leaving her body on a baseball field in a Santa Maria park.
The court rejected claims that police violated Tommy Jesse Martinez’s rights to counsel and silence over the course of several sessions of a multi-day interrogation. A Santa Barbara Superior Court jury returned a death penalty verdict after finding Martinez guilty of the 1996 rape, robbery, and murder of Sophia Castro Torres. They also convicted him of three other sexual assaults that took place before and after the killing.
Police detained Martinez shortly after the last assault, based on a description by the victim, who subsequently identified him as the attacker.He was subsequently tied to the rape and murder by DNA testing.
Under police interrogation, he admitted that he was the person who had called 911 anonymously from a pay phone, at a distance of several blocks from the park, and said he had witnessed the crime. He told the officers that he had gone to the park to buy drugs from Torres—who police said was a penniless transient and not a drug user or seller, according to all available information—but did not go into the park because he saw Torres being chased by two black women, whom he could not identify.
He claimed he did not identify himself on the 911 call because he was high on drugs and did not want to get himself in trouble. He ultimately made a number of contradictory statements about the Torres case, and admitted trying to rob, but not rape, two of the other women.
The defense sought to keep his statements to the police out of the trial, claiming that Martinez had invoked his rights to silence and to counsel. But Judge Rodney Melville found that he had been advised of his Miranda rights and that nothing that he said over the course of the several days constituted an invocation of his Fifth or Sixth Amendment rights.
Specifically, the judge said the defendant did not invoke his right to remain silent when he told the first officer to question him, “That’s all I can tell you; ” or by telling detective who interrogated him the next morning, “I don’t want to talk anymore right now,” following which the detectives left before retuning later in the day; or by saying, “I think I should talk to a lawyer before I decide to take a polygraph,” after one of the detectives offered him one.
Justice Carlos Moreno, writing for the high court, agreed that there was no constitutional violation as to the first two statements, citing cases involving similar comments by defendants. As to the polygraph comment, the justice noted that there was no polygraph, so the fact that the defendant was not given a lawyer at that point did not constitute a violation of the right to counsel.
The case is People v. Martinez, 09 S.O.S. 175.
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