The Samuel Joseph “Joe” Martinez trial, concerning the beating of a transient woman in July 2006, continued on Friday, with the delivery of new key information and testimonies. Five years in the making, the trial began last Wednesday after a long deliberation about whether the defendant, Joe Martinez, would be competent enough for court. Martinez is diagnosed with dementia, but was ruled of adequate mind by Judge Frank Ochoa this past April. Laurel Riley, the victim, will not be testifying in court because she suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. Instead, prosecutor Paula Waldman has called a large number of witnesses to the stand, including, most recently, Martinez’s brother Benjamin Martinez, sister Stephanie Mendoza, and Wilhemus Van Koppen, a homeless man witness to the brutal beating in 2006.
On Friday morning, Benjamin Martinez, 56, continued his testimony with just as much ambiguity and indifference as the day before. Martinez claims that he often suffers from loss of memory and blackouts when drinking as a result of a severe head trauma that sent him into surgery at Cottage Hospital seven years ago. However, he contradicted himself when he told the court that “You can’t forget your life events … because it’s your life, it happened to you.” His indefinite answers proved relatively unhelpful to the trial, and Martinez was called down from the stand and is unlikely return to court unless absolutely needed.
Joe Martinez’s sister, Stephanie Mendoza, continued the witness testimonies well into Friday afternoon. Mendoza gave additional details and opinions on her brother Ben’s previous statements, saying directly that she had never known him to have memory problems and that he always spoke of past events with her — including the incident in question — with very clear recollection. Accompanying her vivid retelling of many conversations with her brothers were extensive tape recordings and hidden video footage, all of which were authorized and monitored by the Santa Barbara Police Department.
While there were many hours of footage and recordings from Mendoza, 47, only relevant portions were played for the jury. In some of these recordings, Joe fully admitted to the crime in colorful detail, saying that the victim, Riley, had made him mad and that she “paid the price for that … after, I beat the shit out of her.” The tapes also showed Ben voluntarily telling significant information surrounding his involvement in the crime, which included bringing his brother clothes, money, and food, while Joe was on the street eluding the authorities.
Mendoza, who has been one of the greatest sources of inside information to Santa Barbara Police Department detectives in the arrest and trial of Joe Martinez thus far, said that since her relocation to San Jose with her husband about 15 years ago, she has not kept in contact with her siblings. She even went so far as to say she has avoided them, only returning to Santa Barbara every few years to visit her aging parents.
The third witness to testify on Friday was Wilhelmus Van Koppen. A transient man who was woken up by and witness to the beating of Riley that night in July 2006, Van Koppen was brought over from the County Jail, where he is currently serving time on battery charges of his own. Despite battling with alcoholism, Van Koppen, 54, gave a lucid account of that night, repeating the exact expletives he heard while listening to the victim cry for help. When asked if, to his knowledge, the victim had prompted her attacker in any way, Van Koppen replied, “She wasn’t doing anything — she was helpless — she was only asking for help.”
Van Koppen also said he had known both Martinez and Riley, separately, before that night, and had met Martinez only two days prior in a restaurant parking lot. This previous meeting gave him more assurance as to the attacker’s identity when he was called in by the Santa Barbara Police Department to go through mug shots of potential culprits. When asked to describe the attacker in detail, Van Koppen looked directly at Martinez sitting in court, and said, “exactly like that man sitting right there.”
Trial is set to reconvene Tuesday morning at 10:30 a.m.