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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Jose Manuel Martinez: Cartel Hit Man

     Most contract killers are inexpensive amateurs who get caught after their first murders. Their more professional counterparts, career criminals, mostly carry out their murder assignments for organized crime bosses. These hit men are harder to catch because they operate in the shadows of the underworld. But every so often a cold-blooded killer like 51-year-old Jose Manuel Martinez emerges from the shadows.

     In late 2013, authorities on the Mexican-Arizona border arrested Martinez as he tried to cross into the U.S. A warrant for his arrest had been issued out of Lawrence County, Alabama where he had been charged with murdering a man execution style in 2013. According to the authorities in Alabama, Martinez shot the victim because of a disparaging remark he had made about Martinez's sister.

     Authorities in Florida also wanted Martinez in connection with a pair of murders in 2006. In California, where Martinez spent brief periods in state prison for drug and theft convictions, the police considered him a suspect in a series of home-invasion robberies. These crimes took place in late 2012 and early 2013.

     Martinez lived on and off in Richgrove, California, a small farming community in Tulare County in the central part of the state about 40 miles north of Bakersfield.

     While incarcerated in the Lawrence County Jail in Alabama where he awaited his June 2014 murder trial, Martinez told detectives that over the past 35 years he had operated as a hit man for a Mexican drug cartel. According to Martinez, he had murdered forty men since 1980.

     On April 8, 2014, prosecutors in two central California counties--Tulare and Kern--charged Martinez with eleven contract killings committed between 1980 and 2011. Nine of the murders took place in Tulare County and two in Kern County. A prosecutor in Santa Barbara County in southern California charged Martinez with the ninth California murder. If convicted of these "lying in wait" murders, Martinez would be eligible for the death penalty.

     Manuel Martinez confessed to the following contract killings:

     On October 21, 1980, Martinez shot 23-year-old David Bedolla to death near Lindsay, California. Bedolla was driving to work with his wife, brother, and brother-in-law in the car.

     Martinez, on October 1, 1982, shot two ranch workers near Santa Ynez, California. Sylvester Ayon, 30, died in the shooting. The other ranch hand, a 17-year-old, survived his bullet wounds.

     On October 19, 1982, 22-year-old Raul Gonzales disappeared from his home in the Tulare County town of Earlimart. A rancher in nearby Portersville found Gonzales' body in a field two days after Martinez had shot him to death.

     Another resident of Earlimart, 29-year-old Domingo Perez, went missing from his home on April 8, 1995. Six weeks later, a farm worker stumbled upon his bullet-ridden body in an orange grove north of Martinez's home town of Richgrove.

     On the night of February 14, 2000, Martinez entered the Pixley, California home of 56-year-old Santiago Perez and shot him to death as he slept in his bed. The victim's four young children were in the house when Martinez murdered him.

     Jose Alvarado, a 25-year-old from Kern County, was found shot to death on a dirt road outside of McFarland, California. Martinez had executed him by shooting him point blank in the head. This murder took place on February 15, 2007.

     Also in Kern County, Martinez, on March 23, 2009, shot 52-year-old Juan Baustista to death. Martinez committed this murder in an orange grove near McFarland, California.

     On September 27, 2009, in Earlimart, Martinez abducted 45-year-old Joaquin Baragan. Three days later a rancher found the victim's body on the bank of the Deer Creek Canal outside of town. Baragan had been shot in the back of the head.

     Gonzalo Urquieta, another Earlimart resident, was kidnapped by Martinez on February 15, 2011. Two days later, the 54-year-old's body was found in an orange grove near Richgrove. He had been shot numerous times at close range.

     In June 2014, Martinez pleaded guilty to the 2013 murder in Alabama. the Lawrence County judge sentenced him to 50 years in prison.

     In October 2015, Martinez pleaded guilty in California to the nine Tulare County murders. He also pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of another man in that jurisdiction. On November 3, 2015, the Tulare County judge sentenced the serial killer to ten consecutive life sentences.

      

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