Crime

Suspect in Modesto massacre arrested as he left movie theater

A do not enter sign is pictured at the entrance of Nob Hill Court in Modesto on Tuesday morning near the location where five bodies were found in a house Saturday. The sign is from a nearby construction site and is believed to have been placed there by residents tired of media and onlookers visiting the neighborhood.
A do not enter sign is pictured at the entrance of Nob Hill Court in Modesto on Tuesday morning near the location where five bodies were found in a house Saturday. The sign is from a nearby construction site and is believed to have been placed there by residents tired of media and onlookers visiting the neighborhood. jlee@modbee.com

Just hours after allegedly killing five people in a Modesto home, Martin Martinez drove to San Jose and took his father to the movies Saturday night, police say.

All the while, Martinez’s family members in San Jose had no idea he was wanted for the killings.

Police found Martinez leaving the theater about 1 a.m. Sunday and arrested him.

Martinez, 30, is the pimary suspect in the gruesome killings of his girlfriend, their infant daughter, his mother and two other children.

Apart from a few fix-it tickets for expired registration and insurance, Martinez has a clean record in Stanislaus County and in Santa Clara County where he has family and where he is being held in jail.

Martinez was arrested on a Ramey warrant in the homicide last fall of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son, Christopher.

After the five bodies were discovered on Nob Hill Court in east Modesto on Saturday, investigators used the Ramey warrant to expedite Martinez’s arrest.

He had been under investigation in Christopher’s death since the incident occurred nine months ago. Investigators received verbal notification Thursday from a medical expert that Christopher’s death was a homicide, two days before the Nob Hill Court slayings.

Ramey warrants are used when officers have enough evidence for an arrest but not enough for prosecutors to file charges, according to information provided by the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office. Officers can gather additional evidence while the suspect is in custody.

Modesto police said the two adults killed were Martinez’s girlfriend, Dr. Amanda Crews, 38, and Martinez’s mother, Anna Brown Romero, 57. Friends and family have said Crews’ two daughters, 6-year-old Elizabeth and 6-month-old Rachael, were among the victims. Crews and Martinez were the parents of Rachael.

Police did not release the name of the fifth victim, a 5-year-old girl said to be Martinez’s niece.

Spokeswoman Heather Graves said the child’s name was withheld by investigators at the request of family members. She deferred to the Stanislaus County Coroner’s Office.

Sheriff Adam Christianson also declined to release the girl’s name, saying in an email: “The privacy interests of the family outweigh the public’s interests in publishing the name of this little girl who lost her life.”

Martinez is set to be released from custody in San Jose on Thursday on the Ramey warrant unless prosecutors file charges against him in Christopher’s death. Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager reiterated in an email Tuesday that prosecutors plan to file charges before then.

Martinez has worked for the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency as a stock-delivery clerk since 2004 and the annual pay is $27,602 to $33,550, according to the county. County spokesman David Jones said in an email: “Mr. Martinez is an employee as of today and we are making no other comment as to his employment status.”

Because Martinez was arrested in another county less than 400 miles from Stanislaus County, authorities here have five calendar days to take custody of him, according to the information provided by the District Attorney’s Office. And because he was arrested on a no-bail warrant, he does not have the right to a bail hearing in Santa Clara County and can be immediately returned to Modesto.

As the community waits to learn Martinez’s fate, friends, co-workers, neighbors and young classmates of the victims gathered at Standiford Park on Monday evening to honor them.

The vigil was organized by Dr. Gayan Gunasekara, a resident at Stanislaus Family Medicine Residency where Crews was a teaching attendant.

He said Crews was an excellent role model to the residents and well-loved by her patients, known for “getting to know her patients and getting to know their personal stories and not being the doctor that just gives them medication, but the doctor who gets to know you and understand your life.”

Several parents and their young children who attended Standiford Elementary with Crew’s daughter Elizabeth went to the vigil to pay their respects.

Meghan Rupp’s son Matix was in the same kindergarten class as Elizabeth. Rupp, who volunteered in the class, described Elizabeth as silly and smart, adding she excelled in drawing and coloring.

“She was always the first to finish her work and liked to help the other kids,” Rupp said.

Misty Fulton said Elizabeth was attending the summer day care program at Sherwood Elementary School with her son Nicholas.

She said Elizabeth participated in the talent show Friday, the day before she was killed. She danced the Electric Slide.

Sylvan Union School District Superintendent Debra M. Hendricks said a grief counselor was at the child care center Monday and Tuesday. Some children utilized those services.

“We also have counselors on standby if further services are needed,” she said. “We also have school counselors prepared to be at Standiford for staff and students the first week of school (Aug. 12).”

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