Victor Martinez appears in a Santa Maria courtroom with his attorney Lori Pedego, left. Thursday. Martinez is accused of sexually assaulting, strangling and beating Marilyn Pharis last month.

Daniel Dreifuss, Santa Maria Times

Victor Martinez appears in a Santa Maria courtroom with his attorney Lori Pedego, left. Thursday. Martinez is accused of sexually assaulting, strangling and beating Marilyn Pharis last month.

One Suspect Pleads Not Guilty in Pharis Murder

Rape and Death of Santa Maria Woman Attracts National Attention

One of the men accused of attacking and sexually assaulting a 64-year-old Santa Maria woman last month pleaded not guilty to murder Thursday morning.

Victor Aureliano Martinez [previously identified by the District Attorney as Martinez Ramirez], 29, had already pleaded not guilty to attempted murder, sexual assault and burglary on July 31, a week after he allegedly attacked Marilyn Pharis in her home in the 900 block of North Dejoy Street. Police said she was strangled, raped, and beaten with a hammer, leaving her with a broken neck and both eye sockets shattered.

Pharis died August 1, and murder charges were filed against Martinez and a second suspect, Jose Fernando Villagomez, on August 7.

Villagomez, 20, appeared in court but did not enter a plea. His arraignment was continued until September 17. Martinez will appear for his preliminary hearing setting the same day.

Deputy Public Defender Lori Pedego, who is representing Martinez, argued that her client should not be shackled in the courtroom considering the amount of media attention the case is receiving.

He is entitled to the garb of innocence until he is proven otherwise,” she said.

Superior Court Judge John McGregor ordered that the media not show the suspects’ shackles.

Pedego is concerned that Martinez will not receive a fair trial and said that people have been inappropriately using the case to advance a political agenda.

The case made national news when it was revealed last week that Martinez is an undocumented immigrant who has been arrested by Santa Maria police several times before, including for suspicion of felony assault with intent to commit sexual assault last year.

Felony charges were not filed in the case, and he was convicted of a misdemeanor. Federal immigration officials asked to be notified when Martinez was released from the Santa Barbara County Jail but never were.

Martinez and Villagomez are charged with first-degree murder with several special allegations, including murder in the commission of rape by instrument and murder in the commission of burglary.

Martinez also is charged with murder with torture and use of a deadly weapon.

Both suspects are in custody at the Santa Barbara County Jail. No bail has been set.

Attorney Michael Scott is representing Villagomez. Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen and Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Karapetian are trying the case.

This story was originally published in The Santa Maria Times.

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