Drug cartel debt collector sentenced to life for California murders

By Curtis Skinner

By Curtis Skinner (Reuters) - A self-styled debt collector for a Mexican drug cartel, who admitted to killing dozens of people over more than three decades, was sentenced on Monday to life in prison without parole for nine murders in California, officials said. Jose Manuel Martinez, who accepted a plea deal in October that spared him the death penalty, was sentenced in a court in Tulare County, located some 250 miles (400 km) southeast of San Francisco, according to Stuart Anderson, a spokesman for the county's district attorney. Martinez, 53, was charged with stabbing and shooting nine victims aged 22 to 56 from 1980 to 2011, prosecutors said. He admitted to shooting a 56-year-old man in his bed in 2000 and dumping at least three bullet-ridden bodies in orange groves in Tulare and Kern Counties over the course of his criminal career. Martinez also pleaded guilty to attempted murder, kidnapping and murder for financial gain. Previously he had admitted to murdering a man who made what Martinez said were disparaging remarks about his daughter in 2013 in Alabama and was sentenced to 50 years in prison. He was also suspected of a 2006 double murder in Florida, prosecutors said. Martinez was arrested by U.S. border police in western Arizona in 2013 after a records check showed that he was wanted on a homicide charge in Alabama. He told investigators he was a debt collector for a Mexican drug cartel. "This serial killer and self-described 'hitman' will spend the rest of his life behind bars," Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward said in a statement in October. "It is my fervent hope that this brings some solace to the families who survived through the loss of their loved one and then lived many years wondering if there would ever be answers, resolution, and ultimately justice," Ward said. (Reporting by Curtis Skinner in New York; Editing by Eric Walsh)