In November the Vanguard reported that family members believed that authorities had arrested and charged the wrong man with a shooting that had left a 13-year-old West Sacramento girl in a coma. On Friday, the Yolo County DA’s office dismissed charges against Sonny Martinez, based on “insufficient evidence.”
Deputy DA Ryan Couzens left open the possibility of refiling the charges, with a hearing scheduled for late February.
Deputy Public Defender Richard Van Zandt declined to comment to the Vanguard, noting the small possibility that charges could be refiled in February. He did say that everyone agrees that right now there is insufficient evidence. The dismissal of the case prior to a preliminary hearing immediately raises questions as to whether authorities had probable cause to begin with.
The Vanguard’s understanding is that the sole piece of evidence that tied Mr. Martinez to the shooting was an informant who told police it was Mr. Martinez. The family asserts that, the day before dropping the charges, Mr. Couzens threatened the wife of Mr. Martinez with jail time if she did not recant her story.
The incident occurred a week before Halloween, resulting in 13-year-old Alize Valadez being hit by a bullet in her head as she was lying on the couch watching a movie in her West Sacramento home.
But family members of Sonny Martinez told the Vanguard in November that he was in Stockton at time and they believed they could prove it.
His wife, Jessica Martinez, told the Vanguard that Sonny Martinez had moved to Stockton, where the family was living with relatives, in late July or early August. The 39-year-old was trying to get a new start and kick his long-time methamphetamine addiction.
Martinez has a record, going back to kidnapping charges in 1994 and drug charges in 1999, but his most recent criminal history was in 2007 – eight years ago.
His wife told the Vanguard that the family was eating at the Pizza Guys in Stockton from about 8 pm until 9 pm. The shooting occurred at about 8:50 pm on a Saturday night in the 900 block of Solano Street, where the girl, at home with her grandmother, was struck in the head after several bullets were fired into the residence.
The police in their report did not disclose any connection between Mr. Martinez to the victim and her family. Media reports had the family of the victim telling local reporters they had never seen Martinez before.
Jo Ann Ramirez, the mother of Sonny Martinez, showed the Vanguard phone records from the night of the incident showing that Mr. Martinez and she were engaged in a phone call on the evening of October 24 from 8:25 pm until just before 8:44 pm. He told her that he was in Stockton at the pizza place with his wife and family.
Jessica Martinez told the Vanguard that the family knew nothing about any of this until police and the SWAT team knocked down their door in Stockton to arrest Sonny Martinez at 6:00 am a few days later, on October 27.
The warrant filled out by Sergeant Jason Winger of the West Sacramento Police Department was reviewed by Supervising Deputy DA Rob Gorman at 1:20 am on October 27 and signed by Judge Janene Beronio, who approved a night search.
The statement of probable cause has been sealed. Jessica Martinez said the only thing the police took from the home was a computer.
The family is not clear on how Mr. Martinez was linked to the shooting. They believe that he may been tracked through his phone via a cell tower and that someone may have told police it was Mr. Martinez.
They also noted that the police may have tracked his truck, registered to his brother-in-law, which he had in Stockton.
Deputy Public Defender Van Zandt, in a motion in November, said that a review of Mr. Martinez’s cell phone texts indicated he was in Stockton at the time of the shooting. That assessment corroborated the Vanguard’s review of the evidence provided by the family.
Still, the DA’s office held Mr. Martinez in custody for another six weeks as they reviewed the case, before deciding there was insufficient evidence to go forward.
The victim, in the meantime, is out of a coma and her prognosis has greatly improved. Authorities will now have to re-open the investigation into the shooting.
—David M. Greenwald reporting