The trial of Samuel Joseph “Joe” Martinez, who was arrested for the 2006 beating of a homeless woman named Laurel Riley, began this week. Martinez was arrested in August 2007, just over a year after the incident occurred, on charges of torture and assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury. Although sexual assault charges were not pressed, it was alleged in Judge Frank Ochoa’s courtroom that the altercation between Riley and Martinez began as a result of unwanted sexual advances from the latter. If convicted, Martinez faces a possible life prison sentence.
After taking over a year to connect Martinez, 62, to the case, his trial was further postponed over the past four years as a result of his declining mental health. Despite signs of dementia, Martinez was declared competent enough to stand trial by psychiatrist Dr. Theresa Boutlette during a hearing in April. Victim Laurel Riley, on the other hand, was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic and deemed not competent enough to appear in court, said prosecutor Paula Waldman.
In place of Riley, Waldman has called a handful of witnesses to the stand, including doctors who operated on Riley when she was admitted to Cottage Hospital, and other homeless people who were witness to the beating near the Louis Lowry Davis Center. On Wednesday, the first witness called to the stand was Dr. David Thoman, a self-employed surgeon who was on call for Cottage at the time of Riley’s admission to the emergency room. Thoman testified about the bodily injuries sustained by Riley during the beating, including a broken nose, multiple fractured ribs, a punctured lung, and severe all-over body bruising. Prompted by questioning from Waldman, Thoman attested that the broken ribs suffered by Riley were very unusual injuries to sustain from a weaponless assault.
The second witness to testify was Robert Cox, 41, a Santa Barbara homeless man who was sleeping on a bench a mere 15 feet away from the attack. Visibly upset, Cox gave his account of the incident, which was somewhat distorted from his clouded memory and alcohol intake that night. When defense attorney Joe Allen asked Cox his final question of “Is the man you saw that night in this courtroom today?”, Cox said, “No.”
On Thursday, Robert Narbeson, the homeless man who found Riley the morning after her beating and was the first to dial 911, was called to testify. Narbeson, 51, said he found the victim lying facedown in a four-foot-wide pool of blood, and immediately called emergency dispatch from the nearest pay phone. Narbeson also stated that because there was “too much blood, too much of a mess,” he was unable to pinpoint Riley’s identity or gender; in his 30-plus years of drifting, Narbeson said, he had never come across anything like it.
Later in the day, 56-year-old Ben Martinez, the brother of Joe Martinez, came in to testify in shackles, as he was supposed to have appeared in court the previous day but eluded police. While testifying, Martinez said that he didn’t think it was “right” for a family member to testify against another. Martinez also evaded the majority of questions from Waldman by claiming he had no memory of past statements he made, despite the fact that they had been recorded.
A large portion of Martinez’s personal history — including convictions of domestic violence, another case of battery and attempted sexual assault, and his history as a sex offender — will be withheld from the jury until a possible later date in the trail.