SANTA ANA (CNS) - A judge today dismissed murder and other felony charges against reputed Orange County Mexican Mafia chief Johnny Martinez.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Patrick Donahue granted a motion to dismiss charges of murder, conspiracy, attempted robbery, burglary and participation in a criminal street gang, along with special circumstances allegations of murder during a robbery and sentencing enhancements for gang activity.
Martinez, 45, was charged with four other men in the Jan. 19, 2017, killing of 35-year-old Robert Rios in Placentia in what prosecutors said was an attack directed by the Mexican Mafia over a dispute about paying “taxes'' on drug dealing.
One of the defendants -- Augustine Velazquez -- was convicted June 30 of murder, conspiracy, burglary and attempted robbery.
Before his trial, his attorney won a motion to dismiss all of the gang charges and enhancements based on an argument that a sheriff's deputy who testified during a preliminary hearing was dishonest about his training for booking evidence, which was fallout from the evidence booking scandal involving multiple deputies who either failed to book evidence or did it after their shift in violation of department policy.
Martinez's attorney, Peter J. Morreale, argued that there was not enough evidence to prove his client was involved in orchestrating the attack on Rios. Martinez was behind bars at the time, serving a prison sentence for second-degree murder, and the indictment alleged that he used smuggled-in cell phones to direct a hit on Rios.
“The argument was there was insufficient evidence to hold him to answer'' following the preliminary hearing, Morreale told City News Service. “There was just zero evidence to indicate he orchestrated the killing or robbery of Rios... The testimony was speculative and was without foundation.''
Donahue “did the right thing. It's a hard call,'' Morreale said. “His analysis was accurate and he went right by the law. Regardless of whether it's a Johnny Martinez case or Joe Blow for drunk driving, the laws are the same.''
Messages left with Senior Deputy District Attorney Dave Porter, the prosecutor on the case, and to the office's public information officer were not immediately returned.
Co-defendants Gregory Munoz, 43, Ysrael Cordova, 36, and Ricardo Valenzuela, 41, are awaiting trial. Velazquez, 24, is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 14.
Martinez has a motion pending to have his second-degree murder conviction from 1994 thrown out based on a new law that dismisses murder charges for defendants not actively involved in the aiding and abetting of a murder, Morreale said.
Martinez is also charged in connection with the attempted murder in Placentia in August 2017 of his co-defendant Munoz, who, by that time, had gotten out of prison. He is awaiting trial in that case.
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