WWII vet testifies against Fresno teen accused of robbing, beating him

The Fresno BeeMay 29, 2014 

In a Fresno courtroom Thursday, World War II veteran Josef Martin finally came face to face with the teen accused of putting a gun in his mouth and pistol-whipping him inside his home last October.

He no longer could hold back his pent-up emotions.

"That's the son of a bitch that beat me up," he said while staring right at 17-year-old Dezman Kenner.

Martin also accused Kenner's lawyer, Curtis Sok, of trying to trick him during cross-examination.

"You're trying to fool my mind," Martin told Sok. "I told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

In the end, Martin, 92, never wavered from his account in Fresno County Superior Court of how an intruder woke him up by putting a gun into his rib cage. The intruder then pressed the gun against Martin's face, cutting his right cheek.

The intruder then put the weapon in Martin's mouth.

Martin testified he could feel the gun's barrel go across his lower lip, hurting his teeth and jaw.

He also said the gunman shoved his head into a wall before stuffing him into a closet.

During it all, Martin said he pleaded with the gunman: "Please don't hurt me."

His account was corroborated Thursday in court by 16-year-old Keith Scott and a 12-year-old boy. The two Fresno boys took plea deals to testify against Kenner. They testified they were with Kenner when the three broke into Martin's home. Scott said he saw Kenner "hit the old man in the face with the gun and put the gun in his mouth." Scott said he saw Kenner shove the "old man" into a closet.

The 12-year-old wasn't as forthright. He said no one had a gun, but he did see Kenner arguing with the "old man."

The "old man" had a bloody face and had tears rolling down his cheeks, the 12-year-old said.

He admitted to taking $400 from Martin's wallet and testified that he saw Dezman take a ring off Martin's finger. The ring had a red ruby, the boy said.

After hearing a few other witnesses, Judge Hilary Chittick ordered Kenner to stand trial on a felony charge of home-invasion robbery. Because a gun was involved in the attack, Kenner faces at least 25 years to life in prison if convicted, prosecutor Tim Donovan said.

Kenner is being tried as an adult because of the violence used against Martin, Donovan said. Though the hearing was open to the public, Chittick denied the news media's request to photograph the face of the 5-foot-7, 150-pound teen.

Martin, a decorated Army soldier who survived the invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, was beaten inside his Fresno home during the early hours of Oct. 23, Donovan said.

Scott, who also was tried in adult court, pleaded guilty to felony home-invasion robbery. He faces up to five years in juvenile prison once he is sentenced. The 12-year-old was sentenced in December to the Juvenile Justice Center for a year as part of a rehabilitation program for pre-adolescents. He was named in court Thursday, but The Bee does not identify minors who are tried as juveniles.

In court, Martin sat in a wheelchair and used a hearing device while he testified.

He said he was sound asleep in his southeast Fresno home when someone jabbed a gun into his ribs.

"Get up," the intruder said.

"I looked at his face. He was angry," Martin said.

He said the gunman had "sharp teeth."

He feared the gunman was going to kill him.

Because he wasn't reacting fast enough to the intruder's commands, the intruder hit him in the back of his head with the gun, Martin testified.

Martin testified that he could not identify the gunman because his bedroom was dark. But once the light was turned on, he said he saw the three intruders in his home.

Once the intruders left, he crawled from his bedroom to the living room and called 911. He then discovered that the robbers had stolen his dead wife's jewelry, food from the refrigerator, money and a ring that was made for him by a prisoner of war who was a jeweler. The ring had a red ruby and the man forged it as a gesture of goodwill and gratitude to American troops.

During a break, Martin blurted out that Kenner was the gunman who attacked him.

Once court reconvened, he testified he was "pretty sure, damn sure" that Kenner was the culprit. He also accused Sok of a cover-up: "You know who robbed me. You got him in jail. What more do you want?"

But when Sok pressed him on cross-examination, Martin admitted that he never picked Kenner out of a police photo lineup. "They all look alike," Martin said of the mug shots.

Martin also said he has only one good eye -- his right eye no longer works.

He told the judge that getting hit with the full force of a gun has scrambled his brain. He also said he talks to himself and hears voices.

It's not voices that tell him what to do, he said, but reoccurring questions about the attack: "Why did they beat me up?"

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6434, plopez@fresnobee.com or @beecourts on Twitter.

The Fresno Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service