Motion to dismiss 2018 murder case denied
May 17—A state First Judicial District Court judge on Wednesday rejected a motion to dismiss all charges in a 5-year-old homicide case.
Ben Noverto Martinez, 84, is facing counts of first-degree murder and tampering with evidence in the fatal June 2018 shooting of 57-year-old Thomas Trujillo, who was dating Martinez's daughter, Felicia Valencia, at the time of his death.
The three of them, along with a few others, had been drinking together at Martinez's house the night Trujillo was killed.
Stephen Aarons, who is representing Martinez, argued Wednesday that prosecutors waiting several years to refile charges against his client after they were initially dropped in October 2018 was "intentional" and served to weaken Martinez's defense.
He added a key witness, Felicia's son Ronnie Valencia, died in the interim between when charges were dropped and refiled in June 2022.
"It's foreseeable that if you sit on the case for four years that you're going to gain a tactical advantage," Aarons said.
Aarons said Ronnie Valencia was the last one to see Martinez before he went to bed on the night of the incident and was the first person to arrive at Martinez's home the next morning. Aarons said Ronnie Valencia would have been able to testify as to how Martinez responded to finding Trujillo's body and whether the home had been locked overnight.
Aarons said if the home had been left unlocked someone other than Martinez could have gone inside and killed Trujillo while Martinez slept.
"This is the one case that I can think of in recent memory ... where we really can't get a fair trial without Ronnie," Aarons said. "He's such a critical witness — the last one out, the first one in — if you believe his story."
Aarons also implied Ronnie Valencia could have been the person who shot Trujillo.
"It's a real mystery who would shoot [Trujillo] three times — once in the back as he slumped over. But certainly it's possible that Ronnie, who suffered from drug addictions and other issues — that something could have happened there," Aarons said.
He also mentioned a "drug dealer" who had issues with Trujillo and who was in jail at the time of the shooting could have sent a third party to kill him. Aarons said he could not remember the man's name in an interview following the proceeding.
Deputy District Attorney JoHanna Cox told the court the state had been mounting an ongoing investigation into the case, in spite of several years where charges against Martinez had not been refiled. Homicide cases, she said, "are not done overnight. They are things that take time."
Judge T. Glenn Ellington asked Cox about the lack of records indicating lab work was being done over the 26-month span between the charges being dismissed and subsequently refiled. She was unable to explain during the hearing whether recent lab results had been in the works for several years, or if lab work on the case had stopped until charges had been refiled.
"Based on my understanding from the detective ... it had been submitted prior, and that was the results that he had received. I do not, and am not familiar with the inner workings of the lab on how they prioritize or make those types of arrangements," Cox said.
Ellington sided with the state and deemed the more than two years prosecutors took to refile charges against Martinez not to have been an intentional effort to weaken his case.
"There is no showing that the state acted in bad faith — that there was any tactical decision to delay," Ellington said.
Martinez, who will turn 85 on Saturday, is set to stand trial in August.
"It's hard to win speedy trial motions anymore," Aarons said in an interview following the proceeding. "[I'm] disappointed, but I understand the court's ruling that it was more negligence than intent by the government."
Martinez said he did not have any comment after the hearing.
"Go with the flow," he added.