FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A suspected contract killer charged in Central California with killing nine people confessed to investigators that he carried out up to 40 slayings in a career spanning decades, a prosecutor said Wednesday.
Errek Jett, the district attorney in Lawrence County, Ala., said that Jose Manuel Martinez, 51, told investigators he carried out the crimes working as an enforcer for a drug cartel. Jett said they believe Martinez because of the details he gave investigators.
Martinez was arrested last year shortly after crossing the border from Mexico into Arizona and sent to Alabama, where he awaits trial on one murder charge. Once word got out, a steady stream of investigators from across the country came to question Martinez, Jett said.
Defense attorney Thomas Turner, who represents Martinez in that lone case, said his client is eager to start a June trial in Alabama, so he can return to California. Turner said Martinez maintains his innocence to the charge there and doesn't seem to be a hardened killer.
"I've found him to be polite and a likable individual," Turner said. "He has a good personality as far as talking with him."
Prosecutors in California say otherwise.
Martinez targeted victims in Tulare, Kern and Santa Barbara counties between 1980 and 2011, said Tulare County Assistant District Attorney Anthony Fultz, who filed charges Tuesday.
Investigators have released details of their case, saying six of the victims were killed in Tulare County, two in Kern and one in Santa Barbara. They ranged in age from 22 to 56, investigators said.
One man was shot dead in 1980 driving to work in the morning, while two men were shot in 1982 working on a ranch, one surviving. The same year, another man went missing before being found two days later by ranchers shot and stabbed to death. Yet another was found in 2000 shot to death in bed with his four children at home.
In addition to the nine murder counts, Martinez was charged in California with one count of attempted murder and the special circumstances of committing multiple murders, lying in wait and kidnapping. Four murder charges include the allegation he committed the crime for financial gain, the criminal complaint says.
The California charges would make Martinez eligible for a death sentence, if he is convicted.
Martinez has lived on and off in Richgrove, a small farming community in Central California about 40 miles north of Bakersfield. He's being held in Alabama, awaiting trial in a 2013 slaying, and Fultz said he's also wanted in Florida on suspicion of two killings there in 2006.
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