Jose Manuel Martinez, 53, the self-described drug cartel hit man and debt enforcer, was sentenced Monday to nine consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole for slaying nine people in California between 1980 and 2011.
Known in southern Tulare County as El Mano Negra, or The Black Hand, he may be responsible for more than 30 murders nationwide.
He is expected to be extradited to Florida, where he is accused of a double murder and could face the death penalty.
Tulare County Superior Court Judge Brett Alldredge sentenced Martinez for the California murders – six in Tulare County, two in Kern County and one in Santa Barbara County – to which Martinez pleaded guilty last month.
Martinez also received a life sentence for an attempted murder.
Before the judge announced the sentence, family members of some of the victims tearfully addressed the judge. Martinez showed no obvious emotion.
Asenneth Moreno, 18, said she was 9 when her father, Juan Bautista Moreno, 52, of Bakersfield, did not come home. His truck was abandoned and he was found shot to death in an orchard.
“Our family lost its income,” she told the judge. Neighbors brought groceries to her, her mother and four siblings, but they couldn’t afford to pay the electricity bill and the power was cut off.
Moreno said after Martinez was taken away that her mother started cleaning houses to support the family.
As a girl, she missed her father’s presence, she said.
I wanted to clear my dad’s name.
Asenneth Moreno, daughter of murder victim
“I wrote letters to him for two years,” she said. “I still have them.”
Martinez’s image as a drug cartel enforcer made it seem as if her father, who had started his own produce sales company, was involved in drugs, she said.
“I wanted to clear my dad’s name,” she said.
Martinez, who lived in Richgrove, had gone to Alabama to kill a man who made the mistake of speaking ill of his daughter. He got away before Alabama authorities could arrest him but was nabbed at the border crossing in Yuma, Ariz., coming back from Mexico.
While in jail in Alabama, a detective from the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, who he asked to speak to, went to Alabama and got his confessions to the nine California homicides, including one in Tulare County in 1980 in which there were no suspects. He confessed with details only the killer would know.
He also confessed to homicides in other states, according to news accounts. Based on statements to investigators, he may have committed as many as 34 slayings in 12 states.
Martinez claimed to be a debt collector for a drug cartel that he wouldn’t identify, but the story could not be confirmed, according to local authorities.
But news accounts said he admitted to killing two people in Florida and told Florida authorities he collected debts and kept 25% of what was owed to the cartel.
Of the nine murders in California, five were for financial gain, prosecutor David Alavezos said.
The Tulare County District Attorney’s Office could have prosecuted the murders as death penalty cases, but Martinez told his lawyers he wanted to plead guilty, and families of victims said they would accept life in prison without parole.